‘More needs and bigger issues’: Private VET colleges impacting TAFE’s effectiveness

Enrolments in private Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers have dramatically increased in recent years. Photo: Getty

Disadvantaged students in NSW are suffering because of the march from TAFE to private Vocational Education and Training providers, according to a new report.

Youth Action, Mission Australia and Uniting on Tuesday released a report into barriers to training, after surveying 50 youth organisations, schools and colleges, and interviewing 13 young people.

Youth Action CEO Katie Acheson on Tuesday said VET colleges did not fill gaps in the market, and instead led to “more need and bigger issues”.

She called for an end to the market model, saying private colleges were for-profit and therefore tended to be ill-equipped to support disadvantaged students.

“They’re only going to run the courses that are most profitable and in high demand, and they’re not going to do things that are going to remove that profit – like additional supports,” Ms Acheson told The New Daily.

“If a few people drop out, that’s just life [in the private sector]. Their job is just to get people enrolled, essentially, they’re not as concerned about the end outcome.”

Ms Acheson said VET training had been a “pivotal” means to lift young people out of poverty and into education, and private providers were not necessarily seeing those outcomes through.

She said TAFE was left to “pick up the slack”, by providing the more resource-intensive courses and taking in students with special needs.

“For example, in 2011, 7.2 per cent of students enrolled at TAFE nationally had a disability, compared to 4.4 per cent of students with private providers,” the report said.

“In 2014, 9.5 per cent of students in TAFE NSW had a disability.”

There was anecdotal evidence that some private providers prioritised students who were most likely to succeed, according to the report.

Of the 990,000 jobs projected to be created in Australia by 2020, more than 90 per cent will require a post-secondary qualification, according to the report.

The authors said VET courses were paramount to ensure the youth unemployment rate does not balloon in coming years.

Funding cuts from both the federal and state governments have had adverse effects on support services and courses, the report said.

“The counselling unit, which previously houses multiple counsellors now down to skeleton staff,” a young person, who identified as Aboriginal and has been in and out of home care, quoted in the report said.

Accessibility problems were compounded by failures to adequately communicate and promote support services.

For example, less than half of the available fee-free scholarships were accessed in its first 12 months.

And the $240 scholarship is “far less than what these courses actually cost”, meaning many disadvantaged students would still struggle to pay their way.

Ms Acheson said there had been some reinvestment in TAFE from the NSW government recently, but that it was not yet sufficient to ensure disadvantaged students have access to the education they need.

The report came as it was revealed the New South Wales government has budgeted $53.23 million for TAFE redundancy and restructuring expenses.

Shadow Minister for Skills Prue Car said NSW Labor was “committed to saving TAFE to ensure our young people have the skills they need to get quality jobs in the future”.

“University should not be the only option for students finishing school – which is why we need to reinvest in the vocational education pathway in NSW,” she said in a statement to The New Daily.

Skills Minister John Barilaro did not respond to a request for comment.

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