PM to launch first national review of vocational education in 40 years
The Morrison government will launch a review of the beleaguered vocational education sector after years of scandal and business complaints over the mismatch between job-seekers and employers
In a bid to stifle Labor’s own review – announced in March – and one of the opposition’s strongest policy suits ahead of the election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will appoint former New Zealand government minister Steven Joyce to lead the first national review of vocational education in more than 40 years.
The sector, which provides services to 4.2 million students, has suffered from a fragmentation between the states, a preference from school leavers for university qualifications and a string of scandals that began under Labor and continued under the Coalition through hundred of millions of dollars in VET-FEE-HELP rorts.
Business has been despairing at the lack of direction within the industry. Trade shortages remain throughout the country, with employers relying heavily on temporary skilled migrants to bolster the workforce, adding pressure to infrastructure and fuelling a divisive immigration debate.
Mr Morrison told business leaders at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual dinner in Canberra on Wednesday that VET system needed to be strengthened, “not simply as an economic imperative but to ensure Australians are equipped for the workforce of the future, with the opportunity to fulfil their potential”.
“Tonight I announce that the government has commissioned an independent review of the vocational education sector in Australia to make sure we’re training the right people for the right jobs in the years ahead,” he said.
He has appointed Mr Joyce, the minister responsible for reforming NZ’s vocational system and a member of former NZ prime minister John Key’s cabinet, to lead the three-month review.
The terms of reference will assess whether the $12 billion industry is “fit for purpose”.
The review is also likely to examine whether the sector is targeted enough to reduce Australia’s stubbornly high youth unemployment rate, which had fallen to six year lows of 11.1 per cent in August, but remains higher than policymakers would like.
Business Council of Australia chair Jennifer Westacott has led calls for reforms since October last year.
“Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a VET qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one,” she said. “It isn’t.”
Labor has made education top-order priority ahead of an expected May election and is likely to seize on the review to argue it will increase vocational education funding if elected.
The government has given Mr Joyce just three months to finish his review in a bid to release it before an early budget in April.
Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek told tertiary leaders in March there was a “great deal of work to be done” to repair the damage to vocational education “even at a time when skills shortages plague the Australian economy.”
The review is not expected to recommend funding cuts but could examine nationalising the vocational education system from a myriad of state agencies – a move the Coalition is unlikely to endorse – along with targeting funding for places in areas where there are skills shortages.
The last national review into vocational education in 1974 effectively created the state-based TAFE system.