Following a brief budget uplift, it’s been a tumultuous time for the vocational education sector. TAFE enrolment numbers have plummeted in NSW and Victoria, causing TAFE NSW to announce plans to self-accredit. To make matters worse, the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda neglected to even mention vocational education.
Now, the TAFE sector fears it will be further diminished, due to the government’s plan to fund sub-bachelor university qualifications, like certificates and diplomas.
The government outlined its rationale in the explanatory memorandum to the bill:
[It] contains measures that will rebalance the costs of higher education between taxpayers and students, expand student choice and opportunity, increase quality and transparency, and improve the sustainability of the Higher Education Loan Program.
In a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Committee, TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) wrote:
Such expansion would accelerate the shift of students, who normally would have attended TAFEs, to universities, which appears to have been the case with demand-driven CSP (Commonwealth supported places) for bachelor enrolments in universities.
The chief executive of TDA, Craig Robertson, further explained why he thinks the government’s move will imperil TAFEs, nationwide.
CR: What impact would the government’s proposal to fund CSP places for sub-bachelor degrees have on the TAFE sector?
Craig Robertson: We acknowledge that it would be difficult to estimate that at this point in time, but if we look at the trend that has occurred for demand-driven bachelor level courses, we would expect there would continue to be a direct throng of students into the university sector who would normally go to a TAFE .
Is there any evidence to suggest that would lead to funding cuts to the TAFE sector?
Well, the TAFE sector is primarily funded by students, and so as students move away [from TAFE] there is less funding that is available to the TAFEs, and this is what fundamentally would start to compromise their viability.
Has the government provided a rationale for the proposal?
The way that we interpret the policy is that it is seeking to provide universities with a more structured pathway for an individual who may not be prepared for a bachelor-level university course, to be prepared for what they call an associate degree. However, this doesn’t align with their second expectation out of this measure: that the university course needs to be industry aligned. So it seems that there are two conflicting objectives.
Can you tell me about the current TAFE landscape in terms of enrolment numbers and funding?
What we know out of work that Peter Noonan has published is that the majority of TAFEs around Australia have had a decline in their funding, not only on per student terms but in global terms, and that’s what is impacting their long-term viability.
Given that some universities are offering TAFE-style courses in association with industry partners, do you see universities as a possible threat to TAFE?
We wouldn’t see universities as a threat. The comment that we’re making to the government is you are duplicating investment for the same outcome.
As the CEO of TAFE Directors Australia, what would you like to see for the future of TAFE?
I would like to see that TAFEs are a key component of an integrated tertiary education sector, where those students who want more of an applied learning approach can get this through the TAFE network, and that these options are just as attractive as university places.
Another thing is that we have a strong interest in the government’s announcement about reviewing the Australian Quality Framework (AQF), and we strongly support the review and we would look forward to working closely with the government on that. We think a review of the AQF would allow some of these funding inequities to be addressed.Do you have an idea for a story?
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