Didn’t you just love all the luvvies thundering in about how good Rudd was at Labor’s launch last Sunday? Really hit the mark, spoke to Labor values, dealt with pressing issues, pity he hadn’t delivered it earlier.
After reading though his speech, I thought: really?
Where were his visions from the previous days – the Northern Territory tax break, the very fast train, the shifting of Garden Island? None of this stuff rated a mention.
In their place, we were offerred a sop to TAFE, a highly unionised bastion of inefficiency and dubious practices.
But hang on, what happened to the COAG agreement to reform vocational education and training and the requirement to introduce competition between providers? Giving guaranteed funding to the TAFE sector is completely at odds with that agreement.
So what do we know about TAFE?
- It is highly unaccountable – everything is measured in millions of student hours. It is almost impossible to figure out how many students are enrolled in particular courses, but it is clear that non-completion is a huge issue, including in trade training.
- The staff are highly unionised and many are permanent. The working conditions are highly restrictive and staff receive out-of-hours allowances, etc even when they teach few hours per week.
- The content of courses is often out-of-date and badly taught.
- Interaction with employers is patchy.
- Were it not for mandated credentials in a number of areas – aged care and child care spring to mind – many TAFE colleges would have closed.
- Student numbers are falling, with open enrolment for universities taking student numbers away from TAFE. (Note there are more than 170000 extra undergraduates.)
If we consider the Victorian experiment, the state Labor government was first to embrace the competitive model pushed by the federal Labor government. Certain people were given an entitlement to access vocational training, be it at TAFE or through a private provider.
Initially, both TAFE and the private providers did very well out of this new arrangement but state government spending on training went through the roof (from $900 million to $1200 million per year in two years or so). This was unsustainable. The TAFE sector also received lump sum grants to deal with their overheads etc.
There were some question marks over both the areas of the courses being undertaken – personal training/aromatherapy etc – and the quality of the training. These question marks were raised mainly in relation to the private providers.
When the Liberals were elected to office in Victoria, not surprisingly, an attempt was made to pin back the spending on training, although trade training was spared to a degree. The lump sum funding to the TAFE system was removed.
At the same time, the state-wide system of enterprise bargaining that had applied to TAFE as a whole was abandoned and TAFE colleges were given the freedom to reach enterprise agreements with their own staff.
The TAFE colleges have been whingeing ever since – their biggest beef is probably the loss of untied block funding. (There are some weird aspects thrown up by dint of some of the universities having TAFE sections – the university parts are much more generously funded than the TAFE parts.)
The reality is that TAFE, with its large geographic campuses, high overheads and permanent staff, was always going to find it difficult to compete with nimble private providers, which can specialise in certain areas with very low overheads to boot. And now all the marginal students, which would otherwise have gone to TAFE, are heading for university.
Notwithstanding, the Ruddsters’ new found love for TAFE (a Labor federal government will even take over the TAFE system if the state governments do not maintain their funding of TAFE – have we heard this sort of thing before?), there are real challenges for TAFE which will need to be confronted. I wouldn’t be waiting for the Rudd Rescue.