Much of the media coverage surrounding the Federal Budget in 2017 was focused on education, specifically on the investment into Gonski 2.0 for the school sector and the cutting of costs for higher education. These are both topics worth discussing, but what about vocational education and training?
The numbers are damning and it’s not only the latest budget that reflects this. Between 2005/2006 and 2014/2015, spending has increased exponentially for pre-schools (125 per cent, although admittedly coming from a very small base), schools (24 per cent) and higher education (45 per cent). For VET, that figure has not only failed to match its counterparts, it has actually dropped by four per cent.
This is a serious issue for a sector already plagued with problems, not least of all the number of dodgy providers that now, fortunately, are being held accountable and weeded out. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is currently chasing in excess of $450 million from a combination of providers including Careers Australia, AIPE, Acquire Learning, Empower, Unique and Phoenix Institute.
It’s common knowledge that the vocational system needs a shake-up. Some would argue this is already underway, particularly in light of the ACCC’s assault on dodgy colleges. Yet until there is a financial investment of substance from the Federal Government, VET will struggle to fulfil its potential and the consequences could be dire.
A lack of funding equals a lower quality standard of education, which in turn will deter prospective students from choosing VET as a pathway. This is already evident, with VET enrolments falling by over 10 per cent in the last decade, a greater proportion than preschool, school or higher education.
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t solved by throwing money at it blindly, as evidenced by the misuse of the VET-FEE-HELP scheme by several colleges. This has further damaged the capacity of VET to attract students, many of which have been conditioned to perceive the entire system as suspect rather than the offending providers.
This isn’t a quick fix. A combination of increased time, money and resources will need to be invested into VET, a process that may take several years to change its perception in the minds of young Australians.