It takes a college: Claire Field on helping grass-roots community services


Small, not-for-profit providers do not have the resources to bid for and win major government contracts

Yesterday’s Community Colleges Australia annual conference highlighted the importance of the Adult and Community Education sector and the challenges it faces, as well as hints that National Skills Agreement negotiations are not progressing smoothly.

The conference demonstrated the impact ACE providers have in regional Australia.  NSW Minister Geoff Lee highlighted that 64 per cent of ACE students are from regional areas. NSW Shadow Minister Tim Crakanthorp went further, stating that ACE providers “go where TAFE and for-profit providers won’t.”

Victorian Shadow Minister Matthew Bach offered bi-partisan support for Victoria’s ACE providers, Learn Locals, while the state’s Minister for Training and Skills, Gayle Tierney, outlined the reforms the Victorian government has implemented which embed Learn Locals into the VET sector.

In other states, there is little in the way of a formal ACE sector, but there are many not-for-profit community-based providers (both RTOs and non-accredited providers).

Hence, one of the sector’s key challenges is that while all governments acknowledge the need for training to assist disadvantaged learners, there is no consistency on the best models or provider-types to do this. Instead, there is significant variability in what counts as ACE, and even if and how ACE is funded by different governments.

Commonwealth Minister, Stuart Robert, focussed on global figures who found success later in life, including the founders of McDonald’s, Honda, and KFC, as well as UK singer Susan Boyle. He went on to outline the foundation skills programs the Commonwealth funds directly.

Conference participants noted that these Commonwealth programmes are mostly delivered by large government and for-profit organisations, emphasising that small, not-for-profit providers do not have the resources to bid for and win major government contracts.

If governments want a strong ACE sector – they need to think carefully about sustainable funding models and to introduce procurement practices which enable ACE providers to fairly compete to win some of these contracts.

And the insights on the National Skills Agreement? I’ll unpack them next week.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector