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Issue #1705      October 7, 2015

Private vocational training shonks

More evidence is emerging of the problems in Australia’s privatised vocational education and training (VET) sector, at the same time as the federal government continues to push its plans to take control of vocational training from the states.

Stories of ongoing rorts by private for-profit providers continue to surface, adding to a whole body of evidence suggesting that privatising the VET system is simply not working.

Australian Education Union (AEU) federal TAFE secretary Pat Forward said the revelations showed the need for tougher regulation of private providers, and for a guarantee of funding to TAFEs to preserve their role at the centre of vocational training.

“A national takeover of VET will not solve these problems, it will only accelerate the damaging privatisation process which is under way at the moment – and TAFE will continue to be undermined.

Reports in The Age newspaper found unscrupulous Victorian “brokers” – who sell courses to potential students are touting privatised vocational training as the next “get rich quick scheme”.

Former students of the for-profit Evocca College have banded together to mount a class action lawsuit against the college, over the poor quality of the education they received. At the same time, the amount of VET FEE-HELP debt VET students will accrue in 2015 is expected to hit $4 billion, a huge increase since 2008 when it was just $15 million.

Students signed up to worthless courses

Despite this, new Education Minister Simon Birmingham seems set to push ahead with a federal takeover of VET, which has the potential to do even more damage to TAFEs.

Ms Forward said that thousands of students had signed up to private VET courses, often not knowing the cost, only to discover that their qualification was worthless and they had incurred a lifelong debt.

“Governments have caused these problems by opening up a huge stream of taxpayer funding to the private sector without putting proper regulations in place,” Ms Forward said.

“The promises made by the supporters of privation of higher quality and more options for students have not eventuated. Instead we have a lower quality courses and ballooning student debt.

“They have allowed the sharks to come in to vocational education and rip off students and taxpayers. Regulation is totally inadequate and there are few checks and balances in the system.

“Every dollar that goes to a dodgy private provider is a dollar that is taken from a TAFE college. Around the country, TAFE colleges are threatened with closure, or reductions in the courses they offer to students, as they struggle to make do with increasingly scarce resources.”

Student debts skyrocketing

The rise in VET FEE-HELP debt has been extraordinarily fast, and of the expected $4 billion by the end of 2015, 75 percent is for courses run by private providers.

While governments have increased regulation of private providers, this has not been able to stop entrenched rorts from continuing. Last year the Australian Skills Quality Authority found that 75 percent of the private providers it audited did not meet quality standards on a first inspection.

Ms Forward said that weak regulation and government-backed loans through VET FEE-HELP made it easy for private providers to rip off students. “Allowing students to get a government-backed loan through VET FEE-HELP sends them a message that these courses are legitimate – that’s playing into the hands of dodgy providers who target young, inexperienced students, often those who are unemployed and desperate to improve their chance of getting a job,” Ms Forward said.

She said that all states needed to put a halt to privatisation by reserving at least 70 percent of VET funding for TAFEs.

“TAFE cannot compete on a level-playing field against for-profit providers which mislead their students, cherry pick the most profitable courses and fail to deliver the minimum hours recommended for courses.

“We need to preserve TAFEs or risk irreparable damage to our VET sector.”

Next article – Disability funding shortfall

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