Claire Field on the price of more VET funding


The states don’t want to pay it

Negotiations on the next National Skills Agreement are not going well according to recent comments from senior officials in the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

The Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform (signed by the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers) stated confidently that “the new National Skills Agreement will be finalised by August 2021”.

At this stage that seems unlikely.

Appearing at Budget Estimates in early June, Deputy Secretary Nadine Williams indicated that negotiations on the new Agreement were “due to conclude in around August this year” and that DESE would need “quite a number of additional meetings … to continue those negotiations.”

At last week’s National ACE Summit, Assistant Secretary Jason Coutts indicated the timeline was potentially slipping further when he discussed the Foundation Skills Framework, saying it was “really closely integrated with the work we are doing in terms of the National Skills Agreement with states and territories, and that’s under very active negotiation at the moment. I think the view is that at least the core components of that, we are hoping to have settled in the second half of this year…”

Why the delay…?

In a nutshell, the Commonwealth is offering more money in return for more transparency (including in how funding is allocated to TAFE), more consistency in government subsidies for different courses, and more efficient pricing. And states and territories want the extra funding but not the degree of Commonwealth intrusion into their VET funding decisions.

Until a new Agreement is finalised, the VET sector carries on within current parameters – but there will be no additional extra funding when the JobTrainer boost runs out.

NAIDOC Week reminds us of one area where additional funding in a new Agreement should be prioritised… in implementing the recommendations of the Joyce Review for more Indigenous-owned RTOs “to provide more Indigenous learners with the option of foundation and vocational training in an Indigenous cultural setting” and better outcomes by focussing on “levels of enrolment, progress and outcomes for Indigenous learners”.

 Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector