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‘Planned cuts’ by states hit vocational training industries

The Australian, Sydney, 6 December 2017 - “Planned disinvestment” by states and territories is destroying Australia’s once vaunted vocational education and training system, Mitchell Institute tertiary education analyst Peter Noonan has warned.

Professor Noonan said a new financial information report showed there had been a “planned defunding” of VET by state governments. “How else can you describe it? There’s no accident about it. It’s long-term; it’s systematic; it’s year on year,” he said.

“It’s an absolute scandal. The country is selectively running down its national skills system. I’m not being alarmist. The data speaks for itself.”

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research report shows that VET operational funding from the states and territories has fallen steadily and ­dramatically over the past four years, from $4.3 billion in 2012 to $2.9bn in 2016.

The three biggest states have cut their operating allocation each year since 2012, with Victoria slashing an astonishing 55 per cent. State government operating funding fell 25 per cent in NSW and 21 per cent in Queensland.

The other mainland states show steady declines since 2013, with cuts of 27 per cent in Western Australia and 45 per cent in South Australia.

Professor Noonan said declines of that magnitude in school or higher education funding would trigger uproar. “I had hoped that there may have been a plateauing of the reduction in state funding, but it’s clear from the data that the rundown is continuing.”

He said TAFEs were being drained of staff. State government spending on employee costs fell by 40 per cent in Victoria, 25 per cent in Queensland and 21 per cent in NSW over four years, and 20 per cent in SA over three years.

TAFE SA is now in meltdown. The national vocational training regulator suspended most of the courses it randomly audited in May, triggering the resignation of TAFE SA’s chief executive and the impending dismissal of its chairman.

Professor Noonan said VET was at risk of becoming a “very small residual sector” mainly focused on apprenticeships and a few priority areas. Some courses could be absorbed into higher education, with the rest either taught in schools or self-funded by students — including poorly paid, but socially important, disciplines like childcare.

Victorian Skills Minister Gayle Tierney blamed “unprecedented cuts” by the previous government for “crippling” the state’s VET sector. She said Labor’s “record investment” had already made a difference, with the TAFE market share increasing from 35.4 per cent in 2014 — when the Coalition lost power — to 43.6 per cent in 2016.”

But the NCVER report says Victorian operating revenues have fallen 31 per cent since 2014.

A spokeswoman for Queensland Skills Minister Yvette D’Ath said her government had spent $1.8bn on VET since its election in 2015. This stood in “stark contrast” to federal defunding.

The NCVER report shows that federal funding for the sector fell a whopping $1.25bn last year. But Professor Noonan said this reflected a “necessary correction” to the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme, which had been monopolised by “scam artists”. Allocations under the scheme fell almost $1.5bn last year.


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