SNOBBERY, policy neglect and funding cuts are steadily eroding Australia’s vocational education and training sector, a leading academic has warned.

This article first appeared in The Australian SEPTEMBER 03, 2014 12:00AM by Andrew Trounson


In a wake-up call to government, Peter Noonan said VET students,many from poor backgrounds, were at risk of having a “hoax”perpetrated on them as government training subsidies progressively were cut and they were forced to pay rising fees while funding for schools and universities had soared.

Faced with negligible funding for vocational training, schools exert their energies on preparing students for university entry rather than skills training. And that trend is being exacerbated by funding cuts inVET that are undermining the quality and status of training for those who choose that stream.

Reduction in VET Training“School-leavers are entitled to a good post-school experience, not some cut-price quickie thing,” Mr Noonan, a fellow at VictoriaUniversity’s Mitchell Institute, told the HES yesterday.

Earlier, addressing the TAFE Directors Australia conference inSydney, he called for an immediate and independent assessment of vocational education, warning that the ability of the sector to deliver needed workforce skills was being put at risk.

“What is emerging instead is a system in which demand and provision is driven by the availability of funding and the pursuit of prestige,” he said, pointing to the extensive growth in university enrolments in recent years.

“Ongoing growth at reduced funding rates (in VET) is a recipe for poor student experiences and poor outcomes. This fact is missed by most public and press commentary driven (by people) who can only deal with issues in the sectors in which they have any direct experience,” he said.

Underscoring the scale of the under-investment in VET, Mr Noonan said between 2004 and last year total operating spending by all governments rose by about 15 per cent to $6.8 billion a year, but that was dwarfed by a 23 per cent rise in school spending to $40bn a year and a 40 per cent rise in higher education spending to $23bn a year.

On a per-student basis, spending has gone backwards. Between 1999and 2011 per student government VET spending fell by 25 per cent against a 30 per cent rise in spending per primary school student and a20 per cent rise per secondary school student. In higher education, per student spending has been largely flat.

The lack of investment in VET was even worse than the numbers suggested because Victoria has dramatically boosted total spending after it deregulated its training market in 2008. Last year more than half the state’s TAFE colleges lost money as they struggled to compete. Mr Noonan said governments needed to support TAFEs properly.

“We must be prepared to value TAFE as a public institution, just as it appears we are prepared to recognise the intrinsic value of public universities,” he said.