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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
Role of technical and further education system and its operation
House of Reps
- Parl No.
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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
CHAIR (Mr Symon)
Ramsey, Rowan, MP
Perrett, Graham, MP
Andrews, Karen, MP
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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
(House of Reps-Friday, 7 June 2013)
CHAIR (Mr Symon)
ACTING CHAIR (Mr Ramsey)
Ms Di Sciascio
- Mr RAMSEY
Content WindowStanding Committee on Education and Employment - 07/06/2013 - Role of technical and further education system and its operation
CAVEN, Ms Pamela, Director Policy and Stakeholder Engagement, TAFE Directors Australia
HARTH, Ms Kaylene, Board Member, TAFE Directors Australia
Committee met at 08:56
CHAIR ( Mr Symon ): I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment inquiry into the role of the technical and further education system and its operation—known, by its short title, as the TAFEs inquiry. On 21 March 2013 the committee adopted the inquiry referred to it by the minister for tertiary education. The minister's terms of reference were as follows:
TAFEs have played a critical role in the training and development of Australians for more than one hundred years. For many Australians, TAFEs provide a critical pathway to training and skills which are increasingly needed to access employment. They also play a critical role in regions and in providing access for disadvantaged groups.
The Committee will inquire into and report on the role played by TAFEs in: the development of skills in the Australian economy; the development of opportunities for Australians to improve themselves and increase their life and employment prospects; the delivery of services and programs to support regions, communities and disadvantaged individuals to access training and skills and through them a pathway to employment; the operation of a competitive training market; and those jurisdictions in which State Governments have announced funding decisions which may impact on their operation and viability.
So far the inquiry has received 172 submissions from individuals and organisations. In excess of 1,000 additional personal submissions have also been received from a Unions Australia organised survey of members. On 30 May 2013 we held an initial hearing with the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science Research and Tertiary Education. Today, we look forward to hearing further views from TAFE leaders, industry, community organisations and unions.
I now welcome representatives from TAFE Directors Australia to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. Thank you for your submission. Do you wish to make an opening statement?
Ms Harth : Yes, we do. TAFE Directors Australia welcomes this opportunity to appear before this committee regarding its inquiry into the role of the technical and further education system and its operation. TAFE institutes are the major deliverers of accredited vocational education and training across a broad spectrum of the Australian qualifications framework. By simply being in place, TAFE institutes ensure access to comprehensive training and education opportunities to meet the needs of industry, communities and individuals by having that coverage across Australia. TAFE has a scale and a reach that has never been replicated by the private training sector and is not likely to be.
However, the network of government owned public providers—TAFE—is now under threat. It is in danger in some jurisdictions of becoming the residual provider of last resort of training that private training providers will not or are unable to provide. The cost of eroding the long-term viability of TAFE will been fewer skilled workers for Australian businesses in areas of critical skill shortages and less access for individuals, especially in rural communities. TAFE institutes act as a bulwark against market failure.
TDA's response to the wide-ranging terms of reference of the inquiry is, in essence, that TAFE institutes play a distinctive role in delivering on the Australian government's economic and social agenda priorities for skills development across a very broad range of industry areas. TDA maintains that the distinctive role of TAFEs as Australia's quality providers of technical and further education ought to be articulated in national agreements between Australian governments. However, it must go beyond rhetoric. TDA believes that there should be a review of base funding for TAFE institutes so that there can be proper acknowledgment of the pivotal role it plays for individuals, industry and communities. TDA's charter for TAFE, released in 2012, underpins TDA's submission to this inquiry and is based on four principles: that funding of public vocational education and training provides value for money and must be sufficient for the education and training services necessary to achieve COAG targets; that enhanced quality criteria are the basis of value for money in public funding for a competitive VET system; that fit-for-purpose governance ensures flexibility and responsiveness; and that TAFE should be recognised for its innovation and leadership roles, including its pivotal position in rural and regional Australia.
TAFE provides the lion's share of skills development in advanced technical areas and in apprenticeship training. However, what is less well-appreciated is that over 80 per cent of TAFE's delivery addresses critical skill shortages across a broad spectrum of industries. Industry understands and values this capability of TAFE, whether attested by Innes Willox of the Ai Group or via the 75 case studies authored by leading VET researcher Dr John Mitchell that document TAFE's capability—exploding a myth that rears its head at times that TAFE is unresponsive and remote from industry's needs.
Typically, private training providers are small scale in that they generally provide only a small number of courses and enrolments in limited numbers of vocational areas. They simply lack the scale to replicate the depth and the breadth of provision of TAFE institutes in most areas of high economic priority. TAFE is a public asset and should be acknowledged for its contribution to the Australian economy. If there is any crisis of confidence in the vocational education sector on the reliability of qualifications issued and the skills developed, it is not with the quality of TAFE provision. All the evidence indicates that TAFE does that very well. A recent report by the Centre for Policy Development indicates that the TAFE sector provides a greater share of the benefits for industry, the community and the individual as against other providers. TAFE is the main training provider outside metropolitan areas. It provides more training towards skills in shortage and it serves a disproportionate share of students with disabilities. TAFE provides costly training in areas such as mining and construction skills, while some private providers tend to skim off cheaper and more profitable courses at the expense of the taxpayer.
A significant challenge for governments is to create structures that can cater to the needs of mature-age students and students who do not follow conventional pathways to tertiary education. In these respects, TAFE is an increasingly important pathway to further training and higher education. There are a small but growing number of TAFE institutes that are offering higher-education qualifications, including bachelor degrees. Students, many of them first in family, from low-SES backgrounds and regional and remote backgrounds, are achieving higher-education qualifications that it is doubtful could have been achieved through a university pathway. TDA argues that students studying higher education in TAFE institutes ought to be eligible for the same Commonwealth supported places as university students. The distributed network of TAFE institutes in some 1,300 locations across Australia provide affordable access to students so that they can study in their own communities. TAFE institutes are an integral part of many regional and rural communities as employers, as purchasers and as educational institutions, working with local enterprises to meet their skills needs and with schools and universities to ensure a smooth transition between sectors. TAFE institutes operate in thin markets, where the actual or potential number of students is too small relative to the cost of delivery. Just by being in place across Australia's regions, TAFE institutes offer an important benefit to the health, prosperity and wellbeing of these communities. It is a community asset.
On this basis, the role of TAFE in regional and remote Australia ought to be recognised and funded appropriately. TAFE institutes have been in competitive markets since the early 1990s and appreciate the benefits of driving greater responsiveness to clients and greater agility and innovation. However, TDA does not support competition where it drives lowest pricing mechanisms, encouraging rampant commercial behaviour with a real threat to the quality of qualifications. TDA maintains that in a truly contestable environment, TAFE institutes ought to have greater operational autonomy, free of the strictures of public-service style governance models.
We have in Australia eight different funding models with each jurisdiction taking its own approach towards introducing greater contestability. Victoria's model for VET is radical in that it allows virtually no distinctive role for TAFE and therefore funds public and private providers on the same basis. As a result, the TAFE share of Victorian public VET funding has declined 21 per cent between 2008 and 2012. As has been well documented, Victoria's virtual open access to funding compounded by the sudden removal of $300 million a year in funding from TAFE has resulted in a severe dislocation of the whole Victorian training system from budget blowouts to the degradation of the public TAFE system. This appears to be a flagrant breach of both the spirit and the intent of the national partnership agreement, which requires the development and implementation of strategies that enable public providers to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition.
While other jurisdictions have moved in a more measured way towards contestability, the undoubted challenge for the TAFE sector has been intensified by funding cuts or changed pricing models, notably in New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency's Future focus report notes that between 2006 and 2010 government real recurrent expenditure on VET increased by 10 per cent but expenditure per student annual hour actually decreased by 14 per cent. Somewhat more alarmingly, it also found that, while recurrent funding since 1999 has increased or remained steady in other education sectors, it has fallen 25 per cent for vocational education and training.
In conclusion, TDA recommends to this committee that the role of TAFE institutes as a quality industry and community focused, full service provider needs to be formally articulated in a national funding agreement, that a review of the TAFE based funding is undertaken in order to ascertain the optimum funding required to sustain the public provider network, that funding of the comprehensive or full provision role of TAFEs should be guaranteed separate to contestable funding and that a set of national quality principles be defined as the basis for the distribution or allocation of public funds of vocational education and training. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. The issue of a national funding agreement, a national partnership, is one that interests me. There is already such an agreement, but reading your submission it would seem that it does not carry the necessary weight to ensure that it is enforced at the delivery point. What would need to be put into a new national funding agreement that is not in the current ones that would allow that to happen?
Ms Harth : TDA would like to see the national partnership agreement articulate a policy position that can be rolled out across all state and territory jurisdictions that actually articulates more strongly the value of the public provider of TAFE and the role that it plays, as we have described in our submission. While there is some reference to preserving the role of TAFE as the public provider, I guess what we have seen across jurisdictions is that that has taken many different forms. If we take what has happened in Victoria, there has been no preservation or no commitment to the role of TAFE. I guess we are yet to see how that rolls across other jurisdictions. Queensland is approaching more contestable funding from 1 July. While TAFE does have a base funding in those initial stages, it will actually receive the same pricing that private providers receive and that actually causes concern for continued delivery of a quality in regional and remote Queensland that would allow those services to be delivered in a way that would ensure that there are quality qualifications for those people in those areas. In summary, we would like to see a clearer policy position articulated, and one that has some teeth as it goes into state jurisdictions.
CHAIR: Your submission mentions the Victorian funding cuts and the changes to the system there. It is relatively new but not new enough to be the feature of only one political party. It was brought in under a state Labor government and it has continued under a state Liberal government. Being a Victorian, I know the impact on TAFEs in Victoria. My greater concern is the impact on the quality of training that is now provided by providers that are not TAFEs, and how that could be better regulated. TAFEs, in my view, have a very good reputation. Some private RTOs do, but there is another sector of the market that is dragging that down. Do you think it is going to undermine the whole system if there is no faith, or lesser faith, in the quality of a certificate or diploma from a TAFE-like institution?
Ms Harth : TDA have a position that we believe it undermines the whole integrity of the whole vocational education and training system. The quality of the qualification, the usefulness and applicability of the qualification once issued, is really its value in the workplace and how it helps position the individual in getting greater skills that can be applied in the workplace. The risk is that the individual is not getting skills development. Diplomas are, from a TAFE perspective, at an AQF level of level 6, which means that it requires time to build the knowledge base in the individual. One of the things does damage to the sector is that parts of the sector do that in a couple of months, or even less time in some cases. That brings the question of quality very much into focus.
TDA has been very pleased to see the National Skills Standards Council has released a position paper around ways in which quality, through regulation, can be enhanced. We have lobbied hard to get some recognition about the value of vocational education and training. To really develop those skills in individuals cannot be done overnight. They may already have some level of skill that they bring into the qualification. That needs to be recognised and developed to the level that is equivalent to the AQF level that the program sits at. Do you have anything you want to add to that, Pam?
Ms Caven : It has been very interesting in terms of the evidence of lack of quality in some of the providers. An article in the Financial Review on 26 March 2013 documented that in Victoria 19 private colleges had pocketed a combined $13.6 million in government subsidies in the 2011-12 financial year. All have since been deregistered by the federal or Victorian authorities. And there is still more information here. It is the speed with which changes have occurred in Victoria that has been alarming. The market was opened up without some of the proper checks and balances and without sufficient regulatory control. So there was a boom period for private providers, where they increased their market share from 14 per cent, in 2008, to 46 per cent. In a very short time, as has already been mentioned, the TAFE share collapsed to 46 per cent from 66 per cent and private providers grew. But, alarmingly, it was found that quite a number of them were necessarily offering a quality product and have since been deregistered. So quality is—
Mr RAMSEY: Does that give you faith in the system or is that causing you concern—the fact that these people have been found to be not kosher, or not delivering sufficient quality, and have been deregistered? Maybe that was inevitable, but perhaps it might settle down now.
Ms Harth : I think the issue is the damage that it has potentially done to individual students who have perhaps had a less than desirable experience.
Mr RAMSEY: But do you think we are through the worst of it now? This group have been deregistered and somebody is now on their case and out having a look at them. They will have to sharpen up or ship out and so perhaps we will see less of that. I do not know.
Ms Caven : I think Schools Victoria has since moved to put in strict contractual arrangements. They have established monitoring. But there is some lack of transparency and, as has been pointed out, we are yet to see some of the longer term outcomes. These things happened very rapidly and were compounded in Victoria by $300 million being taken out of the TAFE budgets, although the recent budget saw $50 million put back in as part of the competitive funding arrangement. But we are yet to see the longer term implications for both students and employers—in terms of the competencies they are expecting. That is alarming.
Ms Harth : TDA would certainly advocate setting the entry bar higher for becoming a registered training organisation.
Mr RAMSEY: It sounds as if that might be happening. You said they are having a review?
Ms Harth : Yes, the review is underway.
Mr RAMSEY: It is just that there an interesting parallel here. In a previous inquiry—it might have been on the migration committee—we saw a similar thing happen in tertiary education with overseas students. It became a bit of an opportunity to get visas and get into the country. People invented courses which did not provide that much content—and there has been a mess. But it has largely been sorted out now—or that is my understanding.
CHAIR: You mentioned the damage to the individual. There are, I understand, subsidies for students to attend various courses. Can you clarify, though—I think the Victorian example is probably a good one—that if a student goes back to do subsequent courses, they may not be able to get those subsidies? If that is the case, and if a student goes to an institution which offers a three-week diploma and then finds out that that has not imparted enough knowledge along the way and goes back to do something more, does that not then lead to direct financial disadvantage for that student?
Ms Harth : The system which has been put in place in Victoria and which, it appears, will roll out in other jurisdictions—certainly in Queensland it will be the position—is that you get one bite of the cherry. You get one funded place from government. If you use up that place and the sort of scenario you describe arises, it does impact on the individual as you say. And this may be an individual who has limited resources and maybe has taken a very courageous step in the first place in undertaking that course—and then that place is wasted. That is of significant concern because the resources of the student may be such that they cannot have another go. In Queensland, the intent is that, where a second qualification is in a critical skills shortage area, a student may be able to have a second funded qualification. But that would depend on government priorities at the time. I do not know what Victoria has done in that regard.
Ms Caven : The same applies. There are some exceptions in terms of literacy, numeracy and some foundation skills but, by and large, once a student has expended the entitlement, that is it and then they are into fee paying.
CHAIR: So a hasty choice at the start and maybe not the best choice can lead to a much harder future.
Ms Harth : You talk about hasty choice: sometimes the individuals are actually targeted by a fairly aggressive marketing campaign of a provider that will promise all sorts of—
CHAIR: Holidays to the Gold Coast.
Ms Harth : bells and whistles—iPads, trips to Bali—which can be quite attractive, obviously, for some people. Individuals have a lot of power in terms of the choice they make but do not actually understand the range of choices that are available. Part of that is about better information for the individual about what is on offer. Governments or purchasers in governments who are providing that framework have a role in ensuring that there is enough information out there so an individual can make an informed choice.
Mr RAMSEY: I would think probably at the heart of your concerns is that TAFEs are losing market share to other providers. In fact in your submission—and in your opening statement too, Kaylene—you said:
TAFE provides costly training such as mining and construction skills, while private providers can ‘skim off’ cheaper and more profitable courses, at the expense of the taxpayer.
What would you do about that? What would you do to stop that if you think that is a serious concern? Are you not in favour of a contestable market? Do we need to enforce other providers to provide a wider range or do we need to recognise the fact that TAFE has other issues to deal with and cannot compete in that market? What would you do about it?
Ms Harth : I think it is about recognising that there are a range of programs that are expensive to deliver and that there should be—let's take infrastructure: some of the programs that are delivered in the trade area require quite sophisticated infrastructure to be available in terms of the equipment and so on. Private providers' response to that quite often will be about doing that in the workplace. That does not necessarily suit employers; in fact what we have seen over a number of years now is employers saying they want training in the workplace but, inevitably, quite often they will come back to an institutional based delivery model. Training in the workplace often disrupts their productivity, their distribution line and their workflow. There is room for both, and TAFE can do both but, for those who do not have the sorts of facilities in their workplaces to allow that training to be done in the workplace, what are the options? The options are to have infrastructure set up in organisations. You could argue that you could set up a private provider in the same way you could TAFE in terms of that. You could set up public access to infrastructure. It is also about skills. In the trade area it is about developing the skills in your staff and to be able to deliver that.
TAFE has had a long history of involvement in the trade areas and has made a significant contribution to the economic productivity of businesses as a result of that. It is not that TDA or TAFE is against contestability; in fact, we welcome it because it allows us to develop further innovations. TAFE tends to focus on the priority industries. It is an instrument of government, so it will always approach its delivery from a government priority perspective so it will focus on the critical skills shortages. We talked before about private providers who will quite often tend to focus on the low-cost and high-volume programs. TAFE does have a role and continues—
Mr RAMSEY: You are telling me what is wrong and what your problem is, but I actually asked you what you would do about it. If we are to recommend anything, what do we do about it?
Ms Harth : I think it is about recognising TAFE's role in terms of what I have talked about: ensuring that there is the training available in all aspects in all industry areas to ensure that we are meeting those skills needs.
Mr RAMSEY: To extrapolate from that, what you are asking for is extra guaranteed funding so you can complete in that market.
Ms Harth : To be funded in a way that actually allows that to continue and to potentially not put everything out to a contestable marketplace, so to actually preserve some of those areas for TAFE where TAFE has done it very well.
Ms Caven : I suppose one of the illustrations of having a more open market would be the Victorian situation, where there was a flourishing in the early years in the fitness market. Suddenly, from a very small base, there was a 400 per cent increase or perhaps even more—that figure would need to be checked. There was tremendous take-up and it was a cheap to offer area. Skills Victoria has since imposed certain caps. As has been said, it is a matter for government to have a look at where they want to fund and where they want to purchase; rather than that demand-led system which can lead to a flourishing in areas that possibly do not need employer requirements or skill requirements.
Ms Harth : The risk in regional and remote areas where TAFE currently operates in a lot of those skill-shortage areas is that it becomes increasingly difficult to do that without adequate funding to continue those programs.
Mr RAMSEY: I understand that well and I represent those types of areas. I have many small TAFEs in little towns. They are often trying to find their place in those towns, I think it must be said. It is a bit interesting. You touch on the fitness courses. Are you actually indicating that you think there are courses funded that are not core businesses of a skills-based economy? I think last week we were talking to the department. I said, 'For instance, I can remember doing a TAFE course that taught me how to prune trees.' I do not actually think that has probably added much to the national economy. It was quite an enjoyable day out learning how to prune trees. Do you think that we should be more focused—
Mr PERRETT: There is a price on carbon, Rowan! You can secure carbon for 80 to 90 years or more than that!
Mr RAMSEY: We should be focusing particularly on those skills that are for industry and less on lifestyle skills. You did say that we had this outbreak in fitness.
Ms Harth : Yes, I think there was a joke that—but it was not a poor joke—there was potentially a fitness trainer in Victoria for every person. They had their own individual personal trainer. I think it is about there being a broad spectrum of areas that need to be covered, but I guess we would say that some should be more of a priority than others. One way to deal with that is to put caps on certain industry areas or programs.
Mr RAMSEY: I know I am hogging the questions, but then would you be adverse to governments saying, 'Right, we've got a finite amount of money. We're going to pull in on certain areas where we think this is not so necessary to the economy and reinvest in those that we think are going to provide hard jobs at the end of it.'
Ms Harth : I think that and then test the capacity of individuals to pay. If it is not a government priority, the individual pays for that program. You may still offer it, but it would not be offered with government funding.
Mr PERRETT: Further to the deputy chair's question: in terms of some providers concentrating on cert I and II and others on III and IV, do you see a market split in providers? Is this the effect of additional private training organisations? How is quality assured?
I ask that in the context of what Mr Ramsey was saying about the fitness instructors and the comment you made that TAFE institutes act as a bulwark against market failure. Now, when I grew up I think there was—I am plucking a number out of the air—about 100,000 shearers in Australia. Now there are something like 2,000 but I think there are 100,000 fitness trainers. Economies change with the interests of society. Rowan would probably have grown up with shearers as well, but now you are flat out finding a shearing team in a country town.
Mr RAMSEY: They are all from New Zealand.
Mr PERRETT: Yes. They rove a lot more. Our industry has changed, so I am particularly interested in that comment about market failure and how we respond to market opportunities because—without taking away from that fitness instructor boom—every park I go to seems to have fitness instructors there and we are officially the fattest nation in the world at the moment. Maybe we need more. Could you comment on that? And—this is the longest question in history—also what you said about the infrastructure associated with those traditional infrastructure industries that you mentioned as well.
Ms Harth : It was difficult to follow with that in the background but I will do my best. I am sorry—could you just go to the core of your question?
Mr RAMSEY: How do we respond to market forces and the future needs of this nation? If market forces say we only need fitness instructors, not shearers or carpenters or electricians—if people are queuing up for TAFE courses to deliver fitness instruction—is that where we go? You seem to be suggesting that there is an imperative to invest, or to not have a contested market, when it comes to certain activities. How would we determine those and what is the determinant? Is it because they are expensive courses to run or because they will be an asset to the productivity of the nation?
Ms Harth : In times where government funding is obviously tight—the government purse is tight—governments need to make decisions about priorities and priority areas. So what is going to make—
Mr RAMSEY: So you are saying a government should make that decision?
Ms Harth : Government should set the priorities of where government funding should go in those programs.
Mr PERRETT: But we are a market based economy. We have moved out of a lot of contested services. We do not own the Commonwealth Bank. We do not own Telstra. We barely own the post office. We do not have an airline service so we have moved out of many of those things. Here, at Queensland government, I could give you an even longer list of things that have been privatised.
CHAIR: But could I just had in there, Graham, it is fair to say that government sets policy for all of those industries.
Mr PERRETT: Yes. Okay.
Ms Harth : Whether you are talking about funding or policy, what contributes to the economic and social prosperity of the country—what contributes to the productivity of the country—that is where policy should pitch but it is also where funding should pitch. Individuals have capacity to pay in certain areas. The question is about where the individual should pay, or an employer who perhaps wants a specific set of skills should pay, and where government should make a contribution.
Mr PERRETT: Further to this: a carpenter would be a classic example, if I could give you that one. A carpenter might be someone who only makes trusses for a roof. That could be a carpenter's job: perhaps something that Rowan and I could learn how to do in a day that would then be repetitive, but that is not a carpenter. But that workplace—that truss-making workplace—could only train them in how to do that part of the production. Obviously, you made the point that does not necessarily—you did not round it out, but I assume you meant this—mean you cannot have a fully qualified carpenter who could go to the next place where they do not make trusses but they do other carpentering things. Sorry—I am a teacher and a lawyer. I should have picked an electrician so that the chair could have helped me out here.
CHAIR: I would have corrected you then.
Mr PERRETT: That is where TAFE has had that traditional role. I assume that it takes a lot to set up a TAFE provider that gives the fully-rounded carpenter or electrician experience.
Ms Harth : That goes back to what I was saying earlier about the different ways of accessing that training. Some employers would prefer that it is accessed in the workplace; some prefer it in an institutional environment. One of the issues that is being explored around apprenticeship reform is about looking at different models in which to get people some base skills before they enter an apprenticeship. Then they make a choice about whether they go along with those base skills that they have achieved or whether they go into a full-blown apprenticeship. It is about having those sorts of options. If we are in the position of another construction boom then you have some people with some base skills who perhaps can do a shortened apprenticeship to gain the balance of the skills. When a boom comes and we have a skills shortage, we are caught short and that has been one of the issues we have faced in some of those trade areas.
Mr PERRETT: That has been the case in the past. We had people lay off their apprentices and then there was a skills crisis. In the global financial crisis people found out that skilled labour was a good thing to hold on to.
Mrs ANDREWS: I would like to start with accessibility. You indicated in your submission that one of the attractions of TAFE was people being able to study in their own communities, but some Australian communities do not have a local TAFE and the prospect of getting one is unlikely. How is TAFE dealing with the digital revolution and access to online training. Is that an opportunity for TAFE and for students to access education that would otherwise be unavailable in their local communities?
Ms Harth : All TAFEs would offer some component of online training. It is certainly available. I think the general experience would be that pure online learning is not for everybody, particularly in the lower-end qualifications. It is important that they have a wrap-around service that sits around that and provides a support model. They do need access to trainers at times to ensure that they are working through the course material. In lower-end qualifications you will not always necessarily find people are self-directed earners and so they do need that extra support mechanism that sits around it. You cannot compare it to people who undertake university studies online, because they tend to be more self-directed and self-paced learners. Online is certainly an avenue for increased access, but it is important to have that wrap-around service. That can be provided in a number of ways. One would be TAFE going into that community for a short period of time to work with those learners who are online. The learners could be required to go to their closest TAFE to do an intensive couple of weeks practical or other reinforced learning arrangement to ensure that they are working their way through the qualification.
Mrs ANDREWS: Can you see TAFE developing more online courses or greater delivery of online courses and would that enable TAFE to better compete in a market that seems to be cost driven?
Ms Harth : Online has its place and TAFE uses that element of training where it is appropriate to do so. But a lot of the programs, particularly in trade, have a practical component. You can do simulation but does that replace using your hands and actually doing it? Sometimes it requires repetition, with the student needing to do something over and over again. That is particularly true in the trade areas such as carpentry and electrical. I do not know what the percentage of online delivery is across TAFE or indeed across the VET sector. But I will say that it does have its place but it will not suit everybody and it will not meet every need.
Mrs ANDREWS: While I am on cost, you talked about some of the private providers providing cheaper courses. We have talked a little bit about the quality issue. Overall, do you believe that there is an issue with the quality of training that is being provided by private providers?
Ms Harth : That has been demonstrated in some of the statistics that Pam gave earlier. Most TAFEs with a whole range of private providers to deliver a better outcome for a student. There are some very good private providers. The statistics that Pam gave earlier demonstrate that some were in it for the money. But the system has dealt with those. That has probably compromised the VET sector and has undermined confidence in the VET sector at times. But one thing that most people wishing to study know is that they can rely on the quality of the qualification that they get from a TAFE institute.
Mrs ANDREWS: What in your view would be the best way to ensure that there is quality in TAFE deliver and across the private providers to ensure that the qualifications can be equally assessed by employers?
Ms Harth : Some of the steps that we have seen emerge out of the National Skills Standards Council—some of the remedies that they are proposing—could be put in place. One of the things that they have suggested is that a provider must have what they describe as an accountable education officer—somebody who has some understanding of pedagogy, assessment practice and the educational component of the training. That is one way in which to ensure that there is a more equitable spread, I guess, of quality providers, be they TAFEs or private providers.
Mrs ANDREWS: From an employee's point of view, how do they make an assessment of the quality of the course that they may be choosing to undertake?
Ms Harth : I guess that there are a number of mechanisms emerging around that. The My Skills website that has been proposed is in a rudimentary state at the moment, but it is gradually being populated with information from providers to demonstrate how they have performed. There are surveys done by NCVER and learner and employer surveys that demonstrate the performance of providers. This information is being made available to individuals so that they can make an informed assessment when they choose a provider.
Mrs ANDREWS: I would like your views on this. Instead of TAFE being all things to all people, should TAFE be targeting a particular sector of the market and especially the areas where there is an identified skills shortage?
Ms Harth : One of the important things for TAFE across all jurisdictions is about clarity of the role of the public provider. That is something that is talked about a lot. Ultimately, when there is market failure it is always the TAFE that the purchaser or the government comes to to address that. It is about better clarity about the role the public provider plays in the marketplace. That would be of value.
CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance here today. If you have been asked to provide any additional information, please forward it to the secretary of the committee. You will also be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Thank you for your time.