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Issue #1699      August 26, 2015

Privatisation threatens TAFEs

Australian Education Union statement

It’s hard to understand why governments keep pushing the privatisation of vocational training, when the evidence shows it damages TAFEs and delivers low-quality qualifications to students.

When Tony Abbott and state Premiers met in July to discuss the future of federal/state relations, one of the nasties in the communiqué from the meeting was a plan to make vocational education a federal government responsibility, while leaving state governments to run TAFEs.

This would be a disaster for TAFEs, and for vocational education and training (VET) because it would accelerate the privatisation agenda around VET, and make TAFE just another organisation competing for funding.

TAFE’s unique role serving disadvantaged Australians, and providing vocational education to millions across Australia, would be at risk.

Rapid privatisation of VET is happening across Australia, and is a fundamental shift away from TAFEs and towards for-profit providers, who are able to compete for government funding.

This has led to private companies generating big profits off the back of taxpayers and students, and growing uncertainty about the quality and usefulness of qualifications in the sector.

Things have moved so fast that in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, TAFEs are now minority providers of government funded VET.

But these changes have not led to a rise in the quality or efficiency of vocational training, they have driven a rise in low-quality courses delivered by for-profit companies and a rise in student debt through the VET FEE-HELP system.

Students don’t have the information to assess the quality of heavily-marketed private courses or whether they will actually lead to a job.

In Victoria 10,000 qualifications have been recalled due to poor quality training, and the industry regulator, ASQA, found last year that 75 percent of private registered training organisations didn’t meet quality standards on a first inspection.

Taxpayer-funded profits

Lack of regulation is allowing for-profit companies to milk the system at the expense of students and taxpayers.

TAFEs can’t compete with private providers who offer a two-year course in a matter of weeks, or who use unscrupulous tactics to sign up students.

As well as costing jobs in TAFEs, this broken system is leaving students the victims: without the skills they need to get secure jobs and saddled with huge debts they will struggle to pay off.

It is also having huge ramifications for our ability as a nation to provide the high skilled workforce that is required to allow Australia to remain competitive and prosperous.

There needs to be bipartisan support for reforms that would help guarantee the future of TAFE by restricting the amount of government funding available to private providers.

If we lose the experience and capacity of TAFEs we will be unable to rebuild them and students will be left with a sub-standard system.

Next article – Dangerous allies – US bases and troops in Australia

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