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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 982

Vocational Education and Training

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (14:31): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Minister, in the final sitting week of 2016 the VET Student Loans Bill passed the Senate. At that time the Nick Xenophon Team expressed serious concerns about the skills gaps that could result in vital areas, such as creative arts, disability and mental health, as a result of certain courses no longer being funded by VET Student Loans. At the time you agreed to allow not-for-profit training providers to offer courses which are not on the eligible course list if they can demonstrate employment outcomes. Further, you agreed to continue discussions with respect to applying that employment test to private providers who have not rorted this system and who stand to lose significantly under the reforms. Can you advise whether the Department of Education has done any modelling on the skills gaps that will develop in areas such as creative arts, mental health and disability services as a result of the courses in these sectors no longer being funded by VET Student Loans?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:32): I thank Senator Kakoschke-Moore for her question and her ongoing interest, along with that of her colleagues, in the VET Student Loans program and these issues. As the senator would be well aware, the government set these skills lists for eligibility under the VET Student Loans program on the basis of a course or its discipline being listed on two different state or territory skills list, providing a basis upon which to be confident that there was a need for such courses as well as ensuring that we had certain safeguards in place for the STEM and agricultural disciplines as well.

As the senator would be aware, during the legislation that was considered we did make further changes which provided for other opportunities for particular providers to have particular courses listed during that time. Given the way the senator worded her question, I think is important to highlight that not all creative arts courses or all courses in any field were ruled out. Indeed, VET Student Loans will support students in courses of graphic design and visual arts, acting, dance, screenwriting, screen production and media, live production, professional writing and editing, jewellery and object design, photography and music industry, as well as in fields such as counselling, community services and mental health. So there are a wide range of disciplines that are covered. We are, though, intent on ensuring that this is a durable program for the long term, and we have committed that, starting later this month, a review will begin of the methodology underpinning eligible course list. Of course I would expect that the review will undertake its own assessment of skills gaps. I am confident that that process, in which providers as well as industry and others can have input, will provide an opportunity for thorough assessment to ensure that relevant and needed courses are available to all students in an ongoing sense.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Kakoschke-Moore, is there a supplementary question?

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (14:34): Have you, as the minister, approved any not-for-profits to offer courses not included on the eligible course list since the VET Student Loans legislation passed and you committed to considering not-for-profit registered training organisations offering particular courses if they could show employment outcomes?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:34): I can certainly confirm that a further 23 courses have been approved for individual providers who have demonstrated strong employment outcomes consistent with the commitments and changes made during the Senate debate on that legislation. I can further add that of those 23, four individual TAFEs, government-owned training organisations and not-for-profit providers are approved to offer a further nine creative arts courses on the list. So we have certainly opened that up and undergone a proper process of assessing those individual cases and, as I said, approved 23 courses, nine of which are in the creative arts fields.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Kakoschke-Moore, is there a final supplementary question?

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (14:35): Minister, do you intend to apply the same criteria that are being used for not-for-profits to for-profit registered training providers? When will those for-profits have the ability to make an application?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:35): During the Senate debate we gave the commitment clearly to extend scope to not-for-profit providers. I also gave a commitment that I was happy to continue discussions with NXT in relation to how we might be able to consider worthy cases from other providers in this area. I understand that my office has continued meetings with your offices over recent weeks and I am certainly happy to reiterate that commitment to work with you if there is an appropriate way with appropriate safeguards so that we do not repeat the types of mistakes that we saw in relation to the VET FEE-HELP scheme that the previous Labor government implemented.