Labor will convene a “once in a generation” inquiry into post-secondary education within 100 days of it winning the next election, Tanya Plibersek will announce in Melbourne this morning.
This ensures Ms Plibersek receives a positive response when she addresses Universities Australia on Wednesday. UA chair Margaret Gardner has called for a national debate on the future of post school education (CMM January 22).
But perhaps not a rapturous one, because Ms Plibersek will today emphasise the importance of higher education-TAFE partnerships and the need to “rebuild” the public vet system.
“TAFE and vocational education is in crisis. The number of students attending TAFE has collapsed due to funding cuts and unhealthy competition from private providers accessing government subsidies. The system is both fragmented and rigid. Partial reviews have not fixed underlying problems. So, we must act now. Labor will put public TAFE at the centre of Australia’s vocational education system. The review will look at the special role TAFE has, including helping Australian business become more competitive at home, and internationally.” This is great news for Labor allies in the public-sector training sector, and no news, at best, for the for-profits.
Ms Plibersek is expected to appoint experts from VET, universities, industry and unions to establish terms of reference for the review, which will look at national needs rather than resources for state based systems. However, while a single post-secondary system is not expected to be on the agenda, Ms Plibersek will call on TAFE and HE to cooperate.
“TAFE specialises in skills, unis are our research powerhouses and we see many examples of excellence from both. But there is much more that can be done to capitalise on those strengths, and endless opportunities to reach new heights by having TAFE and unis working together more often.”
Overall this is smart politics. By focusing on public training Ms Plibersek distances herself from the VET FEE HEP catastrophe, which began on Labor’s watch. And the more she talks up training the less she has to say about higher education funding. While Ms Plibersek will criticise the government for abolishing demand driven funding today she will not mention completely restoring, saying:
“the number of Australians going to university has increased because Labor uncapped uni places. But the cuts and chaos inflicted on unis by the Liberals means participation is uneven. Disadvantaged students remain under-represented, particularly Indigenous students, and students from regional areas. The fact Malcolm Turnbull has effectively abandoned the demand driven system shows he doesn’t care about fixing this.”
If “uneven participation” is all that interests Labor that might be it for the demand driven system. Unless, of course, Ms Plibersek is holding an announcement on doing more for UA next week.