Success has a thousand parents, failure is an orphan. The truth of that proverb is illustrated by the blame game now going on around the disaster that is for-profit Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen dozens of different stories illustrating the extent of the failure. The Oz alone has at least ten.
Reading these stories, it’s clear that this isn’t a matter of bad apples or abuse of the rules. The for-profit sector as a whole is delivering abysmally poor results while chewing up billions of public dollars.
Unsurprisingly, Labor is blaming the government for allowing this to happen. Equally unsurprisingly the Oz is running the line, pushed by Minister Simon Birmingham that it’s all the fault of the ALP who extended the FEE-HELP scheme to the VET sector in the first place.
I had to check back on the history, which reveals that this was actually an initiative of the Howard LNP government, announced in its final year, implemented by the Rudd Labor government, and carried on by the Gillard and Abbott governments. Victorian governments of both parties led the charge at the state level. So, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
But, that’s history. The real problem is that no one is willing to admit the obvious lesson, already evident from the US; for-profit education, funded by public subsidies, is a recipe for disaster.
I should concede though, that Birmingham is already edging towards the right answer, saying that he is and not as keen as he was to extend subsidies to bachelor and sub-bachelor courses at private colleges.
Another piece of good news is that the ACCC and Auditor-General are finally getting their teeth into this, doing what should have been done by the supposed regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, which has been asleep at the wheel ever since it was established.
But no amount of tightening up at the edges can fix this problem. The only solution is to abandon subsidies to for-profit providers and put a serious effort into restoring and upgrading the TAFE system.
Finally, a blast from the past. Back in 2012, ACPET, the for-profit VET lobby group cited me as saying
“I think we will continue to see many examples of (dodgy) educational institutions. They are going to be much more common than examples of successful profit driven training or educational enterprises”.
The report in question (paywalled) concluded by quoting me as saying
The only solution is ultimately for the federal government to take over this area [of VET] and to then have a much more robust accreditation system for private providers than we have, and a much more sceptical one”
ACPET suggested that my position was reminiscent of the Flat Earth Society. At this point, I’d say the Flat Earth Society has at least as much credibility as ACPET.