TAFE (technical and further education) is a critical part of the Australian education system, with more than a million students enrolled across hundreds of campuses throughout the country. From the desert town of Coober Pedy to Thursday Island in far north Queensland off the Cape York Peninsula, TAFE provides an invaluable opportunity for Australians to further their education and increase their skills in the workforce. TAFE has been a leading provider of vocational education and training for more than a century, and the Greens understand that we must have a well-funded TAFE system to continue to provide these opportunities for Australians into the future.
The challenges currently faced by TAFE are unprecedented. The slash and burn approach by the Liberals along with commercialising the sector has forced down TAFE's market share of VET students, plunging from 74% a decade ago to 52% in 2014. Not only have these changes reduced the number of students attending TAFE but it has resulted in fees skyrocketing and campuses being forced to abandon many courses deemed unsuitable due to this commercialised approach. Where previously a loan would not be necessary to attend TAFE we are now finding students forced to take out a HELP loan just to further their education.
Both the Liberal and Labor parties have made poor policy decisions, leading to the government writing off billions of taxpayer dollars due to bad debts associated with the for-profit VET sector. When you have a system that allows one for-profit provider to receive $111 million of federal funding in a year while handing out just 117 diplomas, everyone should be able to agree the current model is broken. Unlike TAFE, the for-profit VET sector has failed to put students first with widespread rorting of the system, deplorable completion rates and poor quality courses.
While reforms passed by the parliament last year provide some safeguards, the for-profit model will never guarantee high quality courses for students. It is time to start looking for genuine solutions rather than tinkering around the edges.
Reforming the VET sector
The Greens are proud defenders of a strong TAFE system. To help provide the high-level skills and workforce development that is vital to our economic future the Greens will:
- Cease providing federal government funds to for-profit VET providers.
- Implement a TAFE federal rescue package which boosts funding by $400 million a year; and
- Establish a VET Ombudsman.
The Greens believe that investment in public education is essential to ensure a fair Australia and to support the transition to a sustainable new economy. Restoring the TAFE system and building our skills future forms a part of our Lifetime of Learning policy that includes support for schools, students with a disability and the tertiary sector.