Claire Field on the cost of Labor’s “free TAFE” promise

by CLAIRE FIELD

While any additional investment in VET is welcomed, most “free TAFE” places will not be new enrolments

Federal Labor has announced the following VET election policies:

* 45,000 new “Free TAFE” places

* 10,000 New Energy Apprenticeships

* convert 420,00 existing places to  “Free TAFE” (by paying states and territories to remove student fees)

* introduce accredited micro-credentials

* establish a TAFE Technology Fund, and

* no more than 30 percent of VET funding going to non-TAFE providers (i.e. maintain the current share).

While any additional investment in VET is welcomed, most “Free TAFE” places will not be new enrolments. Instead, student fees will be removed from some TAFE courses for students ineligible for a concession card (concession card holders currently study for free).

Some of these students would have gone to TAFE anyway. Others would have studied with an independent or community education provider. And as always in VET, the role of the states and territories makes things more complex.

My analysis of the latest National Centre for Vocational Education Research data shows the highest percentage increases in recurrent VET funding over the last four years were in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania – states which largely have not pursued substantial “Free TAFE” policies.

With NSW and WA mandating the fees VET providers must charge, Labor’s “Free TAFE” policy will have a greater impact in these jurisdictions than, for example, in Victoria where government-funded providers do not need to charge student fees.

If Labor wins the election their policies will create significant financial stress for some community and independent providers. They will also create challenges for employers who prefer non-TAFE providers.

The policies will also pose significant challenges for regulator ASQA – in ensuing no quality problems emerge as TAFEs rapidly expand their offerings and as other providers rapidly cut costs and lower student fees to compete.

Against this backdrop, the latest ASQA annual staff survey results and emerging stakeholder concerns are worrying.

Troy Williams advises Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia has been meeting with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Finance on various aspects of ASQA’s operations. And the NSW Utilities and Electrotechnology ITAB reports the ACT Electrical Regulator has concerns about training quality and ASQA’s regulatory approach.

 Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector