High Use Training Packages – Comments on the comparison data

As a lot of you are probably aware NCVER released some interesting data earlier this month on what they classify as High Use Training Packages, which allows for comparison of the data relating to these packages.  The data is quite interesting particularly when you start to look at it more closely, so today I thought I might look at some of the more interesting points in the data and offer some commentary on it all.

The first thing that jumps out of data is that Early Childhood and the TAE are very big business, with around 125,000 enrollments in Early childhood and 45,000 in the TAE.  To be fair a not insignificant number of the Child care enrollments are dual enrollments, with the student enrolled in both the Certificate III and the Diploma at the same time. Even with that though I think we can safely still suggest that Child care enrollments are nearly double the next nearest competitor which is the TAE.   I do have to admit that I was a little surprised by the sheer number of enrollments in the Certificate IV TAE at around 45,000 it sits right next to Certificate II in hospitality and Certificate I in construction, in terms of enrollments.  The question I want to ask here is if 45,000 people enrolled in the TAE, where are they?  Perhaps this will become clearer though as we move through the data.

If we slice the data in other ways we also find other interesting snippets.  On average across all qualifications and packages females account for about 44% of participants, yet when we look at Aged Care, individual support, Nursing and Child care we see that the participation figure for women jumps to more than 80%, with 94% of all childcare enrollments being female.  At the other end of the scale in carpentry, building and construction and electrotechnology we see the situation reversed with less that 5% of enrollments in those qualifications being female.  Certificate II in kitchen operations and hospitality were the two most popular courses for participants who were still at school, while construction and plant operations were the most popular with indigenous students.

If we look at labour force status there are some statistics which are really obvious, such as the fact that in electrotechnology and carpentry less that 5% of students were not currently employed, which given that these are the two qualifications with  the highest % of students undertaking the qualification through an apprenticeship is hardly surprising.  Labour force status also answers the question about the 45,000 TAE enrollments. 89% of these enrollments were from people who were already employed.  Interestingly 82% of all enrollments in Certificate II in kitchen operations were for people who were not currently employed.

Now while there are some really interesting pieces of data through out the rest of the report, I want to jump over now to the outcomes measures, because this will provide us with an interesting story particularly when we combine it with some of the other data we have seen.  It seems that while a high proportion of those students who undertake kitchen operations qualification ar eno employed when they commence, quite a low percentage of these students namely only 31% actually gained employment after completing the qualification, which is way bellow the national average across all qualifications of 47%.  This figure is terrifying because 74% of the people who undertook this qualification did so for employment related reasons, that is they wanted to get a job.  It seems therefore that if you are unemployed, a certificate II in kitchen operations may not be the best option if gaining employment is what you want to achieve. It also makes me wonder who are the people who are giving these students advice, because it would seem to be very poor quality advice to give someone looking for work that they should enroll in a kitchen operations qualification. This becomes worse when you realise that 60% of students enrolled in this qualification were students who were still at school, in fact it was far and away the most popular choice of enrollment for school students with almost 20,000 enrollments.  But wait there is more, 89% of these enrollments were government funded positions.

WHAT AN ABSOLUTE WASTE OF MONEY!

So schools are delivering a government funded qualification to their students, who just as an aside they are supposed to be preparing for entering the workforce, when it is glaringly clear that the qualification they are delivering is a worthless piece of paper to the vast majority of students undertaking it and does nothing to assist the potential workforce participation outcomes of the students.  To be fair though the school only get $2240 per student (QLD) for the delivery of the qualification, which means that we only spent about $30 million on an utterly worthless qualification.  And people wonder why I think VET in Schools is a travesty.

Enough of that though.  If people who are unemployed do want to undertake a course that will more than likely get them a job, then it is unsurprisingly clear the direction they should be heading in.  Carpentry, Electrotechnology, TAE, Aged Care and Individual support qualifications, followed by Nursing, Childcare and Cookery saw 60+% of students who weren’t employed before training employed after completing their courses.  Makes you think that perhaps we might be better serving our school students by enrolling them in CHC qualifications.

So there a few of the highlights from the data, however there is a lot more in this data set than meet the eye at first glance, particularly when you look at it in terms a range of other workforce data which hopefully I will have the opportunity to talk to you about over the next few weeks.

Advertisements

Let’s talk about the system before we talk about funding.

There has been a number of articles and papers popping up recently which have discussed the need to reform post secondary training and education funding in Australia.  Now while certainly I would agree that this is an issue which we need to look at, and one which requires careful consideration, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t a little bit of the tail wagging the dog.  Bear with me while I explain.

There is always a lot of discussion about how VET in this country is funded, who should get what, should it be more competitive or less, what should be funded, the list is endless and so is the opinion and verbosity about it.  Firstly don’t get me wrong, I think that discussions around how we fund post secondary education and in particular VET in this country are vital to our ability to be able to deliver high quality educational outcomes and ensure equality of access to education in this country.  However all of this talk of funding obfuscates the real problem that underlies the entire sector and that is the question of what is the purpose of the sector and what we need to do to ensure that we have a system that best addresses that purpose.  I would hazard to guess that if we took the approach of making sure the system and purpose of the sector were aligned that we would need to spend much less time thinking about the who, what, and how of funding as hopefully the answer to these questions would be apparent as a result of how the system worked.

For quite a long time I have held the position that when we look at the VET sector, its purpose is fairly clear and that is that the purpose of Vocational education and training is to designed to deliver workplace-specific skills and knowledge to assist participants to improve their workforce participation options.  Now over the years people have suggested that this concept is to narrow and that the purpose is to increase the overall levels of education with in the country, so that we have in general a smarter better educated populous, because education and learning are ends in themselves and not simply means.  While I have some sympathy with the position and generally that education and learning are important in and of themselves, this is not and should not be the central purpose of vocational education in this country.  It is certainly not the purpose for which the vast majority of students use it for.

it is clear from years worth of data collected by NCVER and other places that more than 80% of all participants in VET are seeking to convert their participation in the sector and subsequent qualifications to improve their workforce participation levels, either through getting a job or by improving or changing the job role that they currently have.  If the vast majority of participants in the sector are seeking workforce participation improvements and the sector is, pretty much by the definition of the words themselves (Vocational, Education, Training), about delivering workplace skills, then it seems clear, at least to me, that the main purpose of the sector should be what I outlined above ‘to deliver workplace-specific skills and knowledge to assist participants to improve their workforce participation.’

Given the purpose which I have put forward this gives us a fairly solid foundation from which to commence building a system to deliver on that purpose.  I don’t propose to do all of that here and now, but I will point out a few things which instantly seem to pop out.  The first is that there must be a connection between the knowledge and skills being learnt by the participant and the role they want to utilise them in.  No point in teaching someone underwater macrame if they want to an airline pilot or teaching a prospective printer how to work a Gutenberg Press. This means that there must be an intimate connection between industry, content, delivery and assessment.  It also needs that the system needs to be agile enough to cope with rapid changes in the skills and knowledge base of particular industries.

It also means that the system must ensure the validity, particularly in terms of competency, of any qualification issued.  Participants must be able to convert their qualifications into workforce outcomes and the only way that can effectively happen is if there is robust confidence in the competency outcomes of the qualification.  If as an employer I cannot guarantee that a person a particular qualification or  a qualification from a particular provider, then I am less likely to allow the conversion of that qualification into a workforce outcome, which in turn undermines the entire system.  In fact if workforce outcomes are the primary purpose of a VET system then the ability to convert qualifications into those outcomes is the lynch pin.

As i said I am not going to try and develop and entire basis for a system here, but as i said earlier, while discussions about funding are vital, we need to ensure that we have a system that supports the purpose of what the sector is trying to do first.

Queensland VETiS and the New ATAR, a disaster waiting to happen?

So as some of you may know, I have over the years been quite critical of a range of things which occur in the VET in Schools (VETiS) space, not only in Queensland, but in most other states as well.  Things such as the the clear lack of adherence by school based RTOs to the Standards, the qualifications and depth of industry experience of trainers and assessors (particularly those who are teachers) and the types and levels of qualifications which are being delivered.

So let me be clear right from the outset where my opinion lies, anything higher than a certificate III (and if I am being completely honest even Cert III level often worries me) should not be being delivered within a schooling setting.   The concept of the delivery of Certificate IV, Diplomas and even advanced diplomas to students who have not finished their secondary education is in my opinion ridiculous and fraught with dangers.  In addition while I have nothing but the utmost respect for Teachers, just because you are a teacher does not mean that you know a dam thing about vocational education or the needs of industry in terms of training deliver and assessment, and sorry, but if you are a PE teacher who has been RPLed through a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and  Certificate IV in Fitness so that you can deliver Certificate III qualifications to your students, unless you have a whole pile of industry experience (and I don’t mean teaching experience I mean actual experience working the industry you are training in), you ARE NOT qualified to train and assess your students and you are not complying with the Standards.

Now that I have been really clear about where I stand on this it will probably come as no surprise that I consider the Queensland curriculum and assessment authority’s (QCAA) stance on VET and the new ATAR system being introduced, as potentially incredibly damaging to the quality of training and assessment being provided to our school students, shortsighted and showing a complete lack of understanding of the VET system in this country, will have a devastating effect on the workforce participation potential and ability to undertake further training of a significant number of students, and is well frankly idiotic.

What you may well ask is happening to elicit this vitriolic response? It is actually quite simple, and revolves around the calculation of ATAR rank, and while on the surface it seems not to problematic, there is a mindset underlying it which has the potential to be incredibly damaging.  When calculating the new ATARs QTAC will calculate ATARs based on either:

  • a student’s best five General (currently Authority) subject results, as is currently the case for the OP system, or
  • a student’s best results in a combination of four General subject results, plus an applied learning subject result.

Now on the surface that seems reasonable, however as is often the case with these things the devil is in the detail and when you look further into what an applied learning subject result might be you find this;

The best result in a:

  • QCAA Applied (currently Authority-registered subject or Subject Area Syllabus subject) or
  • Certificate III or
  • Certificate IV or
  • Diploma or
  • Advanced diploma,

Did the person who came up with this concept, have even the slightest notion of what is, or should i say should be, involved in completing a Diploma of Advanced Diploma.  The QCCA is actively encouraging the delivery of programs of study which almost by definition will be rubbish, because there is simply no way in which (at least in most cases) the assessment requirements for studies at the level that they are talking about can be met within a school setting, and to think that this is possible shows an utter and shameful lack of understanding of VET and the AQF.  Further more they are encouraging the delivery of programs to students, which will make them ineligible for the vast majority of the post secondary VET funding options which are available for when they realise that their Diploma in Business is utterly worthless and will not help them to get a job. Why?  Because for the vast majority of actual funding programs, if you hold anything higher than a Certificate IV in anything you are automatically excluded. 

VETiS in Queensland is already a disaster and this will simply devalue further the qualifications which are being delivered through it more and deeply harm the outlook for students who have been sold the lie that the piece of paper they get from their school saying they are competent at a Diploma level (or really any level at the moment) will get them a job.

Vocational Education, Career Development and Employment

I went to a really interesting discussion hosted by ACPET last week centered on the theme, careers not courses.  As some of you may be aware this concept of career development, employment opportunity and workforce participation is a subject that I have viewed as quite important for a while now.  Too often we see post secondary graduates, whether from the VET sector or the University sector coming into the workforce either clearly not properly trained and assessed,  having not been taught particular units or subjects, or that the material they have been taught is out of date.  This therefore makes the student who was hoping that their qualification would net them a job when they were finished not actually capable of doing the role they are supposed to be trained for, yet not knowing that this is the case.  So they submit resumes and go to interviews (when they get past the resume stage) and almost never understand why they don’t get the role.  There are also a not insignificant number of people who get to the end of their study, get into the role they are trained for and find out rapidly that it is just not what they expected or what they want to do.

Of course when you start to think about this issue it becomes really obvious that there is no quick fix here.  It is caused by a number of different failures throughout the system.  The first failure point if that of the mismatch between qualifications, and the requirements of industry and employers, and this is certainly not an issue which can or will be fixed overnight.  It is also one which has a more significant effect in some industries, particularly within fast-moving industries, than in others, but given that training packages define the parameters of the training to be delivered and changing them has traditionally be a long slow process and one in which industry and employers have not stepped up as much as they could have it would seem that this issue may be difficult to address in the short-term.

There are a couple of things which I think can be done, at least more easily than reconnecting training packages and industry, and that is this idea of career development or advice and using that advice and its outcomes to inform training programs, units of competency and placements, so that it maximizes the opportunity for the student to both understand the role they are being trained for, and their ability to actually be hired and function in that role.  The question then becomes how do we achieve, how do we map qualifications, training, and student outcomes, with industry or employment need.

The first step is that people who are giving advice to potential students, particularly where those students are younger, actually need to understand both the training industry and landscape, and they need to understand the requirements of industry or the roles that they are advising people about.  The sad state of affairs is that for the most part this is not the case, at best they have one but not the other.  There are a few notable exceptions of course, but still at the moment they are exceptions nothing more.  Why? Well that is a relatively easy answer, the vast majority of people who are advising potential students are employed by job agencies, apprenticeship and traineeship providers, or educational providers (RTOs for example).  They are not in a real sense career advisers, their real role is something different, either placing people into training programs, or placing them in employment.  Their function and agendas may not be as student centric as we might like to think.  Of course as with everything I am generalising here and there are certainly, for want of a better word, advisers, who are student centric and seek to develop a relationship with the potential student which will provide that person with as good an outcomes as possible.

The other part of the equation here is the training providers.  Training providers need to understand the employment market into which their graduates will be entering.  They need to understand the skills and knowledge and the units of competency which best fit the industry or part of the industry into which the student wants to work in, and more importantly that knowledge needs to be current and accurate.  They need to understand the set of units, and the knowledge and skills which come out of those units, which will maximise the students potential to work in the area they want to.  The problem is of course that there are a lot of courses out there, particularly in the business and community services area, but in other areas as well, where the units taught and the content of those units is so generic that it virtually prepares the student for nothing at all except for a long list of rejected resumes.  One of the reasons why, in a previous role, the organisation i was with had its own RTO was to ensure that the units covered in the course, their content, how they were delivered, and what was expected during placements etc was controlled and produced graduates with the right set of skills to move directly into employment in the organisation.  We also did extensive pre-enrollment testing and discussions to ensure that the people entering the course were a good fit and were likely to complete.  Now I know that some of the apprenticeship agencies and job agencies (some of the better ones) are doing this.  Testing candidates to see how they cope with change and to look for what careers might suit them the most.  And this sort of activity is vitally important because, just because a year 12 student says he likes to play video games and wants to be a game designer, does not mean that it is the best choice for him, (the game design industry in Australia directly employs only about 900 people btw) and may actually harm his chances of getting meaningful employment or doing further training to change careers later, due to impacts upon funding.  It is really important to note here that I am not suggesting that we need to stream and railroad people out of careers that they actually wish to undertake, I am just suggesting that there a lot of people who are being trained who really don’t understand the nature of the industries or work that they are being trained for, and if they had been provided with a fuller explanation of the various careers which were available to them may have chosen a very different path.

The other thing which is important here and is which often overlooked is the fact that industry needs to come to the party as well, they need to be clear about what skills and knowledge they require of potential employees and work with providers to deliver on those skills and knowledge.

Unless we have these links between industry, providers and advisors, greater knowledge of options and the effects of various options on future choices, and truly independent advisors, it seems difficult things will improve.  What we need is an ecosystem, where the potential students are getting, timely, independent, accurate and individualised advice, which leads them to providers who create individualised learning plans for these students, based on what the student wants and what industry needs, with placements, internships and other pre-employment opportunities offers by employers to provide student with well-rounded experiences and the best possible opportunity to convert their qualification into a workforce outcome.

 

 

Total VET students and courses 2016 – First look

Woohooo, it’s that time of the year again.  NCVER has just released the Total Vet students and courses Data for 2016.  Yes I know lot of you are now going ‘you’re weird’ and to be fair you are probably right, however, there is more often than not some lovely little gems of information tucked away in this report.  So lets have a look at what it says and see where that takes us.

First the highlights; 4279 providers delivered TVA training to about 4.2 million students in 2016, which represents an almost 5% rise in the number of enrolled students over the 2015 figures. There was also an around 1% rise in the overall participation rates in VET in the population aged 15-64, with  participation highest among 15 to 19 year olds at 46.2%.  This is on the back of an almost 3% decrease in the amount of commonwealth or state government funded training and while management and commerce remains the most popular field of education despite a 5.8% decline in program enrollments, the heath sector saw the largest one rise increasing by 30% in 2016.  The other interesting fact is that about 10% of all of the RTOs listed on Training.gov.au had no enrollment activity during 2016.

So what do all of these highlights mean, before we dig a little bit deeper into the data.  I have to say that realistically it seems to paint a fairly good picture for the VET sector in Australia.  We are seeing solid levels of participation across the Australian population and far more importantly I think we are seeing almost 50% of the 15 to 19 age group involved in some kind of VET activity in 2016.  The decline in funded programs is however a concern, and a concern that must be addressed by both state and federal governments.  For too long now the VET sector has been under funded with the amount of public money coming into the sector reducing in real terms and falling further and further behind K-12 and university funding.

So what other pieces of information can we glean from the report.  Well Queensland had the highest overall number of providers at 1270, with VIC close behind with 1100 and NSW third with just over 1000 providers.  As you would expect the three eastern states dwarf the other states, with each of them having more providers than all of the other states combined.  This trend is also echoed in the total student numbers a well.  NSW leading here with 1.1 million students with both VIC and QLD coming in not far behind, each with over 900,000 students.  When we look at the student numbers a couple of really interesting points pop out.  Firstly female students increased by 10.5% to 2.0 million, with the proportion of female students increasing from 44.1% to 46.5%.  In addition indigenous students increased by 20.1%, accounting for 4.0% of the total estimated VET student population and students with a disability increased by 1.8% or 4.3% of total estimated students.  All other things being equal, this has to be a great result for the sector, with those populations which have traditionally struggled comparatively in terms of workforce participation and education, becoming more engage with vocational education.

When we consider the data around program enrollments, that is what people studied and how, we see a trend or a movement which I think is going to continue into the future.  Across the board in 2016, compared with 2015 national training package program enrollments decreased by 4.1%, while skill sets increased by 111.6%.  This is something that a significant number of commentators including myself have been suggesting, has been occurring and will to continue to occur over time.  I would suggest that in our fast changing workplaces, both workers and employers are looking build and improve specific skills to meet market demands quickly and effectively, thus preferring skill sets and single unit training over full qualifications.

The largest percentage of enrollments was, as we would expect at the Certificate III level with 26% of all enrollments, with diploma level and certificate II qualifications coming in next, both with in excess of 16% of enrollments.  These are the core business areas for the VET sector so the fact that they account for in excess of 60% of enrollments is no surprise.  We saw the health sector record the largest growth of all fields of education increasing by 30.3%, however troublingly we saw by contrast, Natural and physical sciences experienced the largest decline in program enrollments, decreasing by 15.0%.  While our ageing population and the ever growing need for health and allied health professional is clearly driving the growth in that sector, I suspect that a severe misalignment between the training packages and the needs of the science sectors may be the underlying reason behind the decrease in enrollments there.

So that’s it for a first look, I think there are real positives that the VET sector can take from the data in this report, but there are also some things to consider quite seriously, such as the continued decrease in funding and the lack of student enrolling in science related courses.  It will be interesting to see if anything else pops up out of the data as it it looked at more closely and read in conjunction with other data.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

 

Competing Agendas and the VET sector

One of the significant problems for the VET sector is that there seems to be conflicting agendas or at the very least differing agendas which create tension within the system, between a range of its stakeholders.  If we consider the major stakeholder groups within the sector and what it is they want from the sector we should be able to see where these various tensions lay.

I would argue that the following four groups encompass the major stakeholder groups within the VET sector within Australia.

  1. Students
  2. Employers and Industry
  3. Government (State and Federal)
  4. Education providers (Public and Non-public)

Now simply by glancing at this list it may be possible to glean particular areas where tensions might arise between the needs, wants and agendas of these various groups.  Let’s have a look the various groups then in detail and see what their agendas for being involved in the VET sector might be.

Students, it might be suggested have the simplest of  agendas in relation to the sector, however as we have already touched on this may not be as clear as we first thought or how we have conceptualised the student agenda in relation to VET may simply not be correct.  It is my contention that the primary reason, the main agenda which students have, for accessing VET is to obtain a qualification.  This is of course where the first tension begins to rise.  Students want a qualification, because they can convert that qualification into workforce participation of some kind.  However, it is important to note here that if the purpose of significant numbers of students accessing the system is to gain a qualification, this in and of itself says nothing about their motivation towards learning or becoming competent.  It seems anecdotally at least that one of the primary concerns of a significant number of students accessing the system, particularly at higher levels and where they have at least some work experience in their field is ‘How long will it take me to finish this qualification?’

Why is this the case? Why are students or potential students concerned with how long it will take them to undertake the program and obtain their certificate?  The answer is simple and it is that they intend either immediately or at some time in the near future convert their qualification into improved workforce outcomes for themselves.

Some people may be cynical of this line of thought and suggest that surely students want to learn, to be engaged in the learning process and to gain the skills and knowledge they need to improve their workforce outcomes.  I am not suggesting that this is not the case, I am simply suggesting that students want to achieve this in as short a time as possible and as we shall see it is this motivation or agenda which creates tension, particularly with the agenda of the government and to a lesser extent, employers, industry and providers.

Employers and industry might be expected to have somewhat similar motivations in relation to students particularly in relation to the time taken to achieve a qualification.  There is a very real tension which exists between, business and training, which I have discussed in a various articles, where the drive from business is for the delivery of training to be conducted in as short a time frame as possible in order to ensure minimal disruption to day to day business requirements. It is the case however that there is for employers, businesses and industry and inherent tension in this position as employers in a range of circumstances need to ensure that their employees not only have the appropriate qualifications, but also have the skills and knowledge which should underlie that qualification and failure to do so may in some circumstances have catastrophic repercussions for the business in question.  It is of interest to note that this internal tension not only exists between business and VET but also between business and general learning and development programs.  The issue is more apparent in relation to VET however as the training and assessment requirements for a qualification are in general more rigorous than those required for general learning and development programs.

Again when we look at the agenda of the government in relation to VET it may be easy to assume that from their perspective their primary agenda is workforce participation, however as with other groups we need to be careful and think about the situation further.  It is both unfortunate and true that most elected officials in charge of the VET sector have very little knowledge of how the sector works, its outcomes and the motivations of other players in the sector.  This could be said of a wide variety of ministerial portfolios though.  More so than any other sector of the educational landscape VET is seen solution to a range of differing problems.  Primarily most governments tend to see VET as a solution to, or at the very least a significant force in relation to, the problem of unemployment, however not necessarily in the way in which most people might expect.  While it is certainly the case that providing unemployed people with training in particular vocational areas, should have the effect of making them more likely to be able to participate in the workforce.  There is of course an additional advantage to having unemployed in training and that is that given the way in which statistics can be calculated it can be said that those who are undertaking study are not unemployed, therefore reducing the number of people who appear to be unemployed.

So while it may be important to a government to want people to undertake training to improve their skills and knowledge for better workforce participation, or to provide better quality of services, increase innovation and improve the general education base of the nation, it seems that it may also be true, particularly at certain times, that it may also be advantageous to governments to simply have significant numbers of people involved in education programs, particularly where those people would otherwise be listed as simply unemployed.

It is also important to remember that wrapped around this agenda and any other agenda the government may have about vocational training and education is the fact the, at least in Australia, governments both state and federal are substantial financial contributors, either directly or indirectly to the costs associated with students obtaining vocational qualifications.

Various levels of government provide direct and indirect financial support to students, employers and industry, and public providers (TAFE), through a variety of channels and programs, however as myself and others have discussed at length, this creates an additional agenda for governments around value for money and return on investment.  This is simply because there are not inexhaustible public funds available to be funnelled towards vocational education.  It is this environment in particular where there is a mixture of public and private sources of financial inputs into the system, a limited resource environment, and a desire to create best possible returns on those investments, which reinforces the education as a business mindset, which is to my mind, and I have discussed this elsewhere, the mindset that should be adopted by all providers within the sector.

The other factor which arises in relation to the government financial commitments to the sector, relate directly to the impacts of policy settings and decisions on the overall health of the sector, and the perceived impact this has on both the sector and those in government.  One of the shining examples of this was the issues surrounding the VET FEE-Help program.  VFH was an in income contingent loan scheme, similar to the system used to fund students participation in the Higher education sector  The policy and contractual settings for which created a situation which had a devastating effect on the sector as a whole, on the perception of governments ability to manage the sector and on students ability to be able to convert their qualifications into usable workforce participation outcomes.  This statement should however not be taken to suggest that the entry of unscrupulous providers into the system for the sole purpose of utilising the VFH system to amass profit was not the actual cause of the issues.  It is simply to suggest that a funding system, the settings of which allow such behaviour to occur in the first place, show the deleterious effect to government decisions and policies can have upon the overall system.

All of this also sits atop specific agendas in relation to vocational education, which form part of the various party platforms.  At the far left of the spectrum we have the greens with an ideological position that non-public providers should receive no funding at all and that the government should support TAFE (public providers) to the exclusion of any other providers who might wish to be part of the system.  One the right, the Liberal party has an ideological position which favours competition in the market place, a more open view of access to funding, and a position which looks at the public providers, at least to some extent, as simply another provider within the system.  Somewhere in the middle we have most Labor, which while tending to fall more towards the public provider position held by the far left, sees a not insignificant place for private providers within the overall system.

When we then add the agenda perspective of VET providers (RTOs) both public and private we can start to see why we need to develop a way of thinking about the system which is able to address these tensions.  What then is the motivation of RTOs?  I think that this is both an interesting and troubling question for a lot of people and the initial off the cuff responses of a significant number of people will at least to some extent depend on their view of education, its status as a public good, where they sit upon the political spectrum.  It is not uncommon to hear criticism of private, though I prefer the term non-public providers, as being less concerned with educational outcomes and more concerned with profitability.  It is also not uncommon to hear criticism of TAFE (public providers) as being more concerned with administration, staff entitlements and titles, and maintaining the status quo, over education outcomes.  Both views are wrong and are based on long term misunderstandings in relation to the vocational education market and the goals and agendas of its various stakeholders.

It is very easy to make generalisations about the various types of providers in the sector, however it is important to realise that for the most part these generalisations are simply incorrect.  It seems that for the vast majority of providers both public and non -public that the motivation behind them is to produce quality student outcomes.  There is an issue with this motivation; while it would be wonderful it all students could always be provided with all the support they required to be able to undertake their chosen program of study and have the best materials, teaching, and administrative experiences, this cannot always be the case.  All of that costs money and someone, somewhere, sometime has to pay for it all and realistically payment can only come from one of three places, employers and industry, government or the students themselves.

The hard truth of vocational education, and in fact of any facet of formalised education, is that it is a business.  Whether you are a non-public, for profit provider, or a public TAFE, there is no difference.  There is not an inexhaustible amount of money, nor will students, employers or government simply pay any price for training and qualifications.  All providers need at the very least to be self-sustaining in terms of their income and revenue regardless where that revenue comes from and more and more we are seeing pressure on all providers to do more for students for less. This is particularly evident in terms of direct, entitlement style funding from government, where the expectations on providers are being raised while the amount of funding is decreasing or remaining the same.

So while the motivation of providers may well be to deliver high quality student outcomes, and I have no doubt that for the vast majority of providers this is the case, there are very simple economic factors which place pressure on the delivery of these services.  It is not economically viable for any provider, public or private to run a program at any level for only a handful of students.  TAFEs are often criticised for cancelling programs due to lack of number, however the very fact they have to cancel programs shows that there is fundamental economic factors at work and is a perfectly acceptable reaction to these factors.  If the cost of the delivery of a course is $20,000 and there are only three students enrolled for which the total income that the provider will receive is $9,000 then clearly the additional $11,000 must come from somewhere.  Either the government, an employer, or the student themselves must pay more for the course or revenues generated from other parts of the business will need to be redirected to subsidise the course in question.  Now some may feel that utilising revenue generated from other courses or activities to subsidise courses which have low student numbers is an acceptable use of those monies, particularly if it does not affect the overall financial viability of the provider, however supporting programs in one area with funds from other areas is fraught with issues and can create extreme difficulties where the initially more financially viable course becomes less viable.  The other significant issue which exists for those who would  suggest that subsidy from revenue of otherwise non-viable programs is appropriate, is an argument around fairness and equity both for students and in the market in general.

As we can see there are a significant number of tensions which exist in the VET sector both internally to the various stakeholder groups as well as between them.  There are a range of motivations and agendas attached to the various stakeholder within the sector, which unfortunately do not always sit comfortably with each other and as a result this increases the complexity of the industry, the development of sound policies and the development of ethical and sustainable business models  which can in fact cope with and respond to these various agendas.

 

Costs, Benefits and the value of a VET qualification

What is the value of a VET qualification?  I have recently found myself rolling this question around in my head quite a lot in an attempt to come up with some way of looking at qualifications within the sector to determine whether, particularly for individuals, they are worth undertaking.  What I mean by this is simply if I spend $5000 on  a course of study am I likely to as a result of that qualification get a return on my investment of at least equal to or hopefully more than the amount I spent.  Given that most people undertaking VET courses do so to improve their workforce position (about 80% of all students according to NCVER figures) what we are in reality saying here is if I spend $5000 and I going to get that back in the form of wages or earnings as a direct result of having that qualification.

Now I know that it is the case that not everyone does a course of study in order to directly influence the amount of money they are paid for their labor or services and that people undertake courses for a variety of reasons, I guess I am simply trying to see whether their might be a way of evaluating the ‘value’ of a course in such a way as to be able to give us meaningful information about the likelihood of the course having an impact on a students employment or workforce opportunities.

Here is an example of what I am talking about, which course offers better value to a student

Course A:  Course cost $15,000.  Average wage of person with Qualification $100,000.  Percentage of graduates who gain employment within 12 months 10%, or

Course B:   Course cost $5,000.  Average wage of person with qualification $50,000.  Percentage of graduates who gain employment within 12 months 80%.

Given these two options, which one would you choose.  If we don’t consider anything else apart from the information provided, which course offers the better outcome and more importantly can we even actually make such a determination.

Is it the case that even though it seems that most students undertaking courses are doing so for improved workforce outcomes, that the actual value of the qualification itself is not derived from actual improvements in workforce outcomes, but is in fact determined by other more intangible factors.

So I have a question for all of you out there and it is just this – What is the value of VET qualification and can we encapsulate that value in monetary terms?

%d bloggers like this: