The future role of TAFE in Australian tertiary education
Australia/July 18, 2020/By John Pardy/Source: https://independentaustralia.net/
Vocational education institutions aren’t being considered as equals to universities, despite the Government’s rhetoric to the contrary, writes Dr John Pardy.
RECENTLY, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s speech at the National Press Club focused on industrial relations and vocational education. He established that his government’s expectations were that vocational education should become a “first best option”. This is a lofty ambition given the presiding context of Australian tertiary education, where greater social value and esteem is attributed to higher education and university learning.
There are approximately 1.5 million students enrolled in higher education and 4.1 million students enrolled in vocational education in Australia. This enrolment figure in Vocational Education and Training (V.E.T.) would include those studying full courses together with those pursuing a short course of a single unit, which in recent years has been growing. The majority of V.E.T. students undertaking a full course of study are often in TAFE.
Around $13.6 billion of government investment is made in higher education, with approximately $5.4 billion is invested in vocational education. These approximations do not include fee-for-service private monies and much of the government investment in higher education is issued in the form of income-contingent loans.
For vocational education to become a “first best option” in Australia’s tertiary education, policy needs to move the two key sectors closer to some semblance of parity. Whilst the enrolment patterns and government investment in the two sectors differ, the two key public institutions – universities and TAFE – are foundational to the trust and confidence placed in Australian tertiary education. Effective and fair policy and funding are a significant element in sustaining the esteem of Australian tertiary education.
These institutions are subject to uncertainties that have been heightened and made more visible by the challenges of the present COVID-19 pandemic. The threat to international student markets is already affecting Australian tertiary education, placing more pressure on already resource-strapped institutions.
The recent higher education policy reform1 directions announced by Education Minister Dan Tehan point to policy intentions that seek to shape what students study and, more importantly, what they pay and how much government subsidy will be allocated. It seems from the recent Productivity Commission review that a similar policy direction will be pursued for vocational education by progressing more nationally consistent and coherent funding arrangements.
This implies a streamlining of subsidies and/or seeking to determine through national agreement consistent course subsidy rates. This will reshape the financing of V.E.T. with implications for state governments and their funding of TAFE.
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