The erosion of Australia’s vocational training system, partly because of privatisation, is now impacting on society and on the futures of young people.
After severe budget cuts over the past decade in Australia, the country’s vocational training programme, TAFE (technical and further education), is in crisis. Student numbers have dropped by more than 25 per cent since 2012, and the TAFE sector has been hit particularly hard by job losses.
This pressing issue was addressed by the Australian Education Union (AEU), a member of Education International (EI), at its national conference, The future of public TAFE institutions - new social policy, on 20 October. The aim of the event was to reimagine the role of TAFE in the light of a “broken social settlement in vocational education in Australia.”
In the recent past, TAFE systems have been decimated by cuts to funding, thousands of retrenchments of teachers, campus closures, a diminishing range of courses, and fee increases for students that exclude those most in need.
“We need sound public policy for TAFE institutions that rebuilds their broader social role allowing them to meet the needs of young people and their communities as well as the needs of industry,” said Pat Forward, AEU’s Federal TAFE Secretary. “A well-resourced public TAFE system is the lynchpin of that policy.” It is the Australian government’s responsibility to adequately fund the system, and to value “TAFE as a public institution vital to building a better society”, she added.
The conference brought together academics and researchers, including Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan of the University of Toronto, Dr Jim Stanford, Director for the Centre of Future Work at the Australia Institute, and Professor John Buchanan, Head of the Discipline of Business Analytics at Sydney University, as well as policy makers, teachers and union representatives.
The conference was also the venue for the Australian launch of Wheelahan and Gavin Moodie’s report, Global Trends in TVET: a framework for social justice,commissioned by EI.
Angelo Gavrielatos, project director for EI’s Global Response against the Commercialisation and Privatisation of Education, stressed the main points of the study:
- The variety in educational structures and approaches for this fast-growing area of development
- The need to give students more than job-focused training
- The importance of taking a holistic approach to TVET students
- The negative impact of privatisation on this sector
- Best practice, i.e. Germany, where TVET is completely state-funded and state-managed
- The need for TVET students to be able to access academic pathways into higher education if they so choose
EI: TVET not delivering on education pathways
“TVET is a crucial area of development for the (up to) two-thirds of students who don't take university focused traditional academic pathways,” said EI President Susan Hopgood. “The fact that they are being positioned into courses run often by the private sector, frowned upon by academia, but conveniently filling a hole in government statistics, needs more evidence-based research such as the EI TVET study to see what is really going on.”
She added that this study highlights the necessity of the TVET sector but that it is falling short of the promise of providing educational pathways for all students. “The productive capabilities approach proposed in the report would see TVET students not only picking up skills in, say, mechanics or hairdressing, but also learning citizenship skills and developing a broader range of capabilities for a lifetime.”