Plus for-profit trainers face tough Senate test

Super Friday fun night

The Senate Education and Employment References Committee inquiry into the principles of the Pyne package (that’s the Opposition’s) will hold six hours of hearings on Friday. Gosh won’t that be fun. But then the Education and Employment Legislation Committee (that’s the Government’s) will hold its hearings, yes on Friday night. Given everybody has heard everything about the bill the scheduled 90 minutes should be plenty of time. Among the witnesses are Universities Australia, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training and, significantly Bruce Chapman. The father of HECs proposes deregulation light (universities can charge what they like but public payments taper down after a ceiling is breached) – an idea which appeals to policy people who suspect it is the closest thing to deregulation that is politically possible.


Senators signal hard questions

The Senate committee inquiry into for-profit training chaired by Labor’s Sue Lines tabled its first interim report last night, (a second is due on June 15). This one, completed before committee hearings start, sets the scene for tough questions when they do. The report points to the rapid growth in government payments to private providers, more than doubling for the country as a whole between 2008 to 2013 from $523m to $1362m. In Victoria, where contestable funding made the biggest changes to TAFE and for-profits market share , government payments to private providers rocketed from $150m to $799m. Having established the size of the pie the committee makes it clear that it wants to know who gets the most profitable pieces and what they provide in return. “The committee is also concerned about the increased volume in VET FEE HELP funding to for-profit VET providers who retain a substantial amount of the loan as profit. … The committee is also concerned by evidence suggesting that 40 per cent of all VET FEE-HELP loans will not be repaid due to lack of job opportunities for VET graduates and low wages. Such a high level of bad debt in effect functions as an additional subsidy to providers as the cost is borne by the taxpayer.”

The committee also wants to know about “aggressive marketing techniques,” which “de-emphasises the real cost of undertaking VET and misconstrues the costs.”

And all this before the killer comment, which signals the opportunity for the for-profits to make a case on quality, but the damage that will follow if they fail to convince the committee.

“The committee notes that an appropriate regulatory environment is key to ensuring consistent high quality standards of training and skills development in a competitive market. The committee is concerned that the current regulatory framework is not as effective as it can be. In exploring the regulation of VET in Australia the committee hopes to focus on the quality of private VET provision, the competence of graduates, the recruitment of students and regulatory enforcement.”

Opportunity for ACPET

Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief Rod Camm is always on message with a sensible line; yes a minority of for-profit voced providers have rorted government funding by enrolling people who are not qualified for courses but ACPET is on to them and will sort out the shonks. And this week he intends to provide more detail on how. So it was a bit of good luck that yesterday he could demonstrate he is fair dinkum, by announcing ACPET is “closely examining all allegations that are being made by the media” against a member. Mr Camm does not say which one, but I’m guessing it is Careers Australia (CMM yesterday), which is one of the largest private providers in the country and was named in an ABC TV report. It’s CEO, veteran training industry leader Patrick McKendry, has stood aside from the government’s Vocational Education and Training Board. Be interesting to learn what ACPET concludes.

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So old it’s got a Brezhnevite beard on it

If press reports are correct and the government is going to abandon university deregulation Education Minister Chris Pyne hasn’t got the memo. He used a friendly question in the Reps yesterday to put his standard reform case before parliament for the 11,000 time. But he went further, reminding wavering supporters of his plan that Labor shadow minister for education Kim Carr believes in government involvement in university planning and is not keen on demand driven funding. Under Labor, Mr Pyne warned, universities would get “Moscow on the Molonglo.” Who says the Coalition has no sense of Australian history? That line hasn’t been used since Kim Beazley was education minister, Kim Beazley senior that is.

More work for some

A reader wise in the ways of workforce modelling pointed me at the feds’ new projections for labour force growth through to 2019. Overall, officials expect employment to expand across the five years by around 10 per cent. Full-time jobs will increase by 8.6 per cent and part time positions, by 14 per cent. (As a rough-comparison, jobs growth for the year to January was 1.4 per cent.) That’s the ok-ish news, the optimistic calculation for people in education and training is that the industry will grow by 142 000 jobs – or 15.6 per cent. “This growth is expected to be supported by above average growth in the school aged population, improving strength in the international education sector as a result of the lower Australian dollar, and continuing growth in part-time workers and non-teaching staff,” the Department of Employment predicts. Don’t get your hopes for a full time job up sessionals.

Where the money’s not coming from

For the handful of people who do not read The Australian’s opinion page, yesterday it featured an oped by Senator Zhenya Wang (PUP-WA) who broke cover to make the case for the Medical Research Future Fund. And not any slimmed down version, the whole $20bn box and dice, as announced in last year’s budget, “without further delay.” The senator is silent as to where the money would come from so I am guessing he does not see fee deregulation saving the feds some cash to inject into research.


Editorial training

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research intends to refine its research focus and invites comment on its draft directions. An editorial assessment was inevitable after Tom Karmel’s 11 years in the NCVER chair, successor Rod Camm was not there long before moving to the Australian Council for Private Education and Training. The draft research foci certainly seem sensible, although I can’t see a big difference from present interests. But there is one thing that new CEO Craig Fowler could do – establish a new house style. The prose in NCVER reports does not sing, it does not even speak clearly. One of the reasons the centre’s work is under-reported is that hacks and social media commentators struggle to find the substance, which is generally there, but regularly hidden in ponderous prose.

Prize for doing more with less

A three-time winner of Australian Research Council grants is irate at Industry Minister Macfarlane’s announcement of the new Prime Minister’s Prize for the Commercial Application of Science (CMM yesterday). The researcher points to the December 2013 transfer of $60m over four years from the ARC Linkage program to the National Health and Medical Research Council. “I am still baffled as to why the university and industry sectors, and the ARC, did not make more of a fuss about this at the time it was announced … the government’s actions appear to be significantly undermining our efforts to establish research links with industry.”

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