On 1st June, 2013 the St Vincent de Paul Society made a submission to the Standing Committee on Education and Employment conducting an inquiry into the role of TAFE and its operation. The Society believes that everyone in Australia has the right to “a place to learn”. Technical and Further Education (TAFE) plays a critical role in the training and development of Australians, providing a pathway to training and skills which are increasingly needed to access employment. TAFEs are also more responsive than private providers to areas of skill-shortage within the economy, and TAFEs are fundamentally linked to employment opportunities. TAFEs also offer unrivalled access to education for disadvantaged people. For these reasons, the Society is pleased that Parliament is taking an active interest in the future of TAFEs in Australia, and support increased funding of TAFEs.
For many people, TAFEs may accurately be described as an essential rung in their educational ladder. They provide an invaluable pathway to employment for many trying to enter or re-enter the workforce for various reasons, including many vulnerable groups assisted by the Society, for example single parents, unemployed people, migrants and refugees, those with mental or physical disabilities, older Australians in poverty, and ATSI people.
As such, the Society has been deeply concerned by significant cuts to TAFE funding in Victoria and New South Wales, and proposed cuts in Queensland.
At its root, de-funding TAFE means removing a very large and accountable institution which performs a huge amount of public good. In contrast, the largely unregulated private providers which will take TAFEs’ place are highly unlikely to perform any similar public good. They have been shown to lack real commitment to developing skills that Australia needs, they are far less interested in helping disadvantaged groups access education, and private providers will be much less likely to value the broader personal development of their students.
Outcome of the Inquiry
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment tabled its report, TAFE: an Australian asset, on 24 November 2014.
The St Vincent de Paul Society’s submission was noted extensively in the final report, with the Committee acknowledging the Society’s point that TAFEs are an important pathway to employment for people who are disadvantaged.
The report also noted the Society’s view that TAFEs undertake active outreach, providing vital assistance for migrants and refugees, people from rural areas, and people experiencing housing deprivation.
The Society welcomed the Committee’s recommendations that the government:
- Make a value statement defining the important role of TAFEs;
- Focus on regulating unscrupulous providers who offer low-quality educational services;
- Ensure that funding reflects the role of TAFE in providing access to education to disadvantaged people.