ACCI CONFERENCE ON VET AND APPRENTICESHIPS
20 JUNE 2016
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Thank you for the invitation to join you today to talk about a subject on which I am very passionate – my portfolio of vocational education and apprenticeships.
You have no doubt noticed that Labor under Bill Shorten has given a very high priority to these two areas in this election campaign.
Since the last election I have been very critical of the Liberal Government’s complete neglect of the sector and failure to address the crisis in apprentices in training numbers.
To date, as we enter the final fortnight of the campaign, the Government has continued this neglect by failing to outline a vision for the sector in the future or any specific policies to address the numerous issues we face.
The contrast between their silence and Labor’s strong platform of policies could not be more stark.
I am very conscious of the significant interest ACCI has taken in the sector, and in apprenticeships in particular, including in your most recent pre-Budget submission. So I am very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss our announcements with you today.
In his Budget Reply speech Bill Shorten said:
“Labor will make training and skills a national priority.
Creating jobs in our regions;
Re-training adult workers; and
Helping modernise our industries and technologies.
We are delivering on that commitment with a significant range of important policies.
A NATIONAL VET SECTOR REVIEW
Firstly, a Shorten Labor Government will undertake a comprehensive National Vocational Education and Training Sector Review to build a stronger VET sector and weed out dodgy providers and student rip-offs.
Despite its importance to Australia’s social and economic future, Australia’s VET sector is at a crossroads. Costs are increasing but quality is declining, particularly in private courses and states which have experienced funding reductions.
Labor’s review will ensure the VET sector is properly equipped to train Australians for the jobs of the future, proper standards are enforced and the central role of our public TAFE system is recognised.
Our national skills and training sector used to be the envy of the world – since the election of the Liberal Government it has been significantly damaged by shonks and sharks ripping off vulnerable people.
People’s livelihoods are being destroyed – and their job prospects ruined. It is a disgrace – and action must be taken.
Having a strong VET sector is an important part of Labor’s plan to tackle inequality.
The vocational education and training sector deserves a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to policy-making to ensure it is fit for the critical task of preparing Australians for the jobs of the future.
While schools and universities have had full reviews into funding with the Gonski and Bradley reviews – the vocational education and training sector has been left behind. The sector has not undergone a full review since the Kangan Report in 1974.
It is time for a full review of the operation of the sector including quality, funding and access. As new jobs emerge and existing industries go through extensive restructuring the nation will rely on an effective, quality vocational sector to provide the qualifications to enable people to enter the workforce, upskill or retrain.
Labor is committed to protecting the reputation of the sector, prioritising the outcomes for students and meeting the national need for a well-trained workforce into the future.
A TAFE FUNDING GUARANTEE
Under the Abbott-Turnbull Government, Australia’s TAFEs are struggling. In the past two years we have seen the closures of TAFEs, reductions in staffing, ever-increasing course costs and unscrupulous private providers and brokers preying on vulnerable people.
This must not be allowed to continue. TAFE must be backed by governments as it is critical to our future.
Labor has a plan to back TAFE into the future by developing a comprehensive National Priority Plan that defines the unique role of TAFE as our public provider and delivers on this by working with the states and territories to provide ongoing guaranteed TAFE funding.
TAFE must remain an essential part of Australia’s skills and training sector as it plays a vital role in servicing our regions, industries in transition and disadvantaged groups.
As the Australian economy changes, the jobs of the future will change. Our trades will involve more technology-based skills, and workers will need training in these skills to be more effective in the workplace and to remain competitive in the employment market. New trades and professions will emerge and require quality training programs and upskilling courses.
It is therefore absolutely critical that we invest in supporting our national asset – our public TAFE sector.
There are challenges in the way the vocational educational sector is funded which has led to the decline of the TAFE sector nationally. Over the last year it has become clear that there has been a failure in the market and we have seen the proliferation of opportunistic and sub-standard training providers costing the taxpayers and students millions of dollars.
This needs to stop.
Under Labor’s plan for TAFE, a Shorten Labor Government will work with Premiers and Chief Ministers on a comprehensive National Priority Plan that defines the unique role of TAFE and places it squarely as the public provider within the VET sector – as the cornerstone of our economy’s need to train and retrain its workforce and deliver on improving the participation, productivity, innovation and growth efforts required for the nation.
Labor is firmly committed to a strong TAFE sector.
We understand how critically important TAFE is to so many students, communities, industries and businesses. It is a national asset and we must work across all levels of government to ensure its future.
RESTORING INTEGRITY AND STOPPING RIP-OFFS
A Shorten Labor Government will introduce a loan cap of $8,000 a year in the VET FEE-HELP program as part of an integrity package to stop the massive waste of taxpayers’ money, to prevent price gouging of students and improve training outcomes.
Under the Liberals, the VET FEE-HELP loans scheme has escalated from $699 million in 2013 to $1.7 billion in 2014 and is expected to have blown out to over $3 billion for 2015.
At the same time, students are being ripped off by unscrupulous colleges and dodgy providers - and taxpayers are being forced to pick up the tab.
In some colleges it is costing taxpayers over a million dollars in VET FEE-HELP loans to produce a single graduate.
In 2014, the ten largest private training college recipients of VET FEE-HELP subsidies in Australia were paid $900 million in government subsidies - yet less than five per cent of their students graduated.
Labor will stop this waste of taxpayers’ money and exploitation of students. Our plan will restore integrity to the system, by cleaning out the dodgy private providers who have been ripping Australians off for too long.
Labor’s plan to rein in these taxpayer subsidies and restore integrity to the vocational education sector will save Australian taxpayers $6 billion over ten years.
There will be an exemption on legitimate high-cost courses such as nursing and engineering following ministerial approval.
Other measures in Labor’s integrity package include:
- Ensuring that funding for providers is linked to student progress
- Set national priorities to help meet the skills needs of industry
- Crackdown on the use of brokers to recruit students
- Ensure that only the highest quality colleges get access to funding
- Tougher powers to audit, investigate and suspend unscrupulous providers
COMMONWEALTH INSTITUTES OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Labor has a plan to expand access to higher education and support local jobs in outer suburban and regional Australia.
Investing in education and training is the single most important thing we can do to maintain Australia’s prosperity and secure the jobs of the future.
Labor is committed to opening up access to higher education to more Australians and supporting universities as critical drivers of innovation across the economy.
A Shorten Labor Government will build on this record – not just because it is the fair thing to do, but because our future prosperity depends on it.
A Shorten Labor Government will work to establish Commonwealth Institutes of Higher Education to deliver new higher education qualifications in the outer suburbs and regional areas where existing universities struggle to give Australians access. A network of pilot sites, with universities working together with TAFE, will address acute need in areas of under-participation while trialling approaches tailored to local conditions and designed to give students options.
While the Institutes model is a new form of collaboration, it is not a new kind of a university. Commonwealth institutes will be joint ventures between universities, TAFEs, industry and in many cases local and State governments. They will deliver a mix of higher education with technically focused vocational education specifically designed to drive innovation and productivity growth in industry and enterprises. The applied nature of learning and the close link between theory and practice will offer a unique student experience compared to universities or in training.
Many students eligible for tertiary education are seeking a practical vocational approach to learning. Commonwealth Institutes will be the specialist providers in the delivery of hands-on work-integrated learning. Applied real-world learning will be its distinguishing feature.
Commonwealth Institutes will deliver Advanced Diplomas and Associate Degrees, as specified by Australian Qualifications Framework Level 6. Students will have a tradeable exit qualification and the option to continue on to bachelor-level study at university.
As a condition of funding, Commonwealth Institutes will be required to demonstrate engagement with industry and links to regional labour market need, give instruction that leads to real economy jobs, and offer an articulation pathway to higher study at a university.
For the first time Australia will have a network of tertiary education institutions which bring together the best of applied higher education and high order technical and vocational skills to deliver an innovation and technology driven boost to the Australian economy.
A Shorten Labor Government will establish a national network of Commonwealth Institutes of Higher Education by:
(a) Funding the establishment of a network of pilot Institutes in areas of demonstrated policy need and existing vocational training, higher education and industry collaboration.
(b) Increasing the availability of Commonwealth supported places at the advanced diploma and associate degree levels to support the development of new pathways to work that combine academic learning and technical skills. These places will be funded at 70 per cent of the full university rate, consistent with established policy expectations for sub-degree places (to which the notional research premium does not apply).
(c) Conducting feasibility studies in every State and Territory into where Commonwealth Institutes should be located to expand access to higher education and work-ready high-skill vocational training.
(d) Conducting progressive impact assessments of the pilot Institutes and encouraging the sharing of best practice and shared challenges.
(e) Shaped by the outcome of the assessments and the feasibility studies, opening the program for bids to established new Institutes in areas of identified need and capability. Consortia of universities, TAFEs or other tertiary education providers will be encouraged to apply, in concert with industry and local and State Governments.
Demographic analysis shows regions of persistent low participation and attainment, particularly in outer metropolitan and regional Australia. In a number of these areas, local communities, businesses and institutions have already identified their needs and opportunities, and progressed plans to work together to address them. Many of these collaborations are very well advanced, and leverage off existing infrastructure and relationships. Some require capital investment, while others require funding only for development, staffing and student load.
An initial pilot project at two sites has already been announced: the University of Tasmania’s Northern Transformation Project, targeting Launceston and Burnie, to which Labor committed $150 million on 28 April. The project is set to create 3,110 jobs, including 265 additional academic and professional staff jobs and support 12 000 new students into higher education in North and North-West Tasmania. The plan is estimated to deliver $1.1 billion economic output during the construction phase alone and an additional $428 million a year in economic activity.
A total of ten pilot sites will be established in all States, in locations where need is demonstrated, and where institutions, industry and local communities are ready to implement locally tailored pilot Institutes.