Claire Field on training by the numbers


The prime minister wants a transformative national skills agreement with the states and territories – that will depend on data

When Terry Moran was the CEO of the Australian National Training Authority, he taught me the importance of data in designing VET reforms and the importance of examining state and territory differences.

Working in ANTA’s data analysis team it was a fairly common occurrence for Terry to ask us for specific data and specific state-territory comparisons before his meetings with state and territory senior officials. He cleverly used the data to highlight good and poor performance in different jurisdictions – and in turn used that to generate consensus on proposed reforms.

That kind of data-driven approach is what will be needed if the Commonwealth is to strike the transformative National Skills Agreement the Prime Minister is seeking.

The Commonwealth must ensure the new agreement recognises the vast differences across states and territories in how they deliver VET, and engages them not just in co-funding the new agreement but on the raft of other reforms the sector is currently trying to finalise.

These include the new governance model for Jobs and Skills Australia, which former National Centre for Vocational Education Research CEO Craig Fowler argues persuasively must involves states and territories rolling out the 180,000 initial Fee-Free TAFE places and a raft of other changes, as well as ensuring quality in the VET system is not compromised as these reforms roll out.

The data the Commonwealth needs is available in two key NCVER publications:

* Government funding of VET (2020), and

* Total VET students and courses (2021)

They show that in 2020 the Commonwealth provided just over one-third of all recurrent VET funding (34 per cent) up from just 26 per cent in 2017.  When you add in the specific purpose payments and the time-limited funding the Commonwealth provides, its contribution rises to 49.7 per cent of all VET funding.

So the relative share of funds states and territories provide has been declining in recent years and yet all the talk around the Summit was on the need for the Commonwealth’s contribution to increase.

The other important data examines which providers students are enrolled with and how states and territories are funding them. There are extraordinary differences at the jurisdictional level (and more details on my website).

 Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector