March 2021 saw the publication of a new paper from the National Skills Council. It’s the first national collection of information on VET qualification subsidies, fees and prices across Australia and aims to get a better handle on what drives their varying costs.

It’s also the first step in trying to develop “a simple, transparent and consistent approach to achieving efficient pricing of VET qualifications Australia wide.”

What’s this all about?

Over the years there has been work done to understand and document the price variability of VET qualifications, particularly the same ones delivered in different jurisdictions for different costs. This present paper tells us that there are:

“varying prices for students accessing the same qualification in different jurisdictions, averaging over $3,000 (and in many cases exceeding $10,000).”

So, substantial price variation really does exist!

Other related work, for example a 2016 NCVER publication, has focused on differences in student entitlements. A more recent paper, by Monash University’s Gerald Burke looks at the changes in funding in Australian vocational education and their effects. It called for a more comprehensive analysis of funding.

There is variability!

The NSC’s paper tells us that “despite all jurisdictions basing their subsidies predominantly on the cost of delivery, and at a high level, similarities in cost calculations, variability is real” and hence result “in different prices and subsidy levels.”

The drivers for this variation appear to be influenced by “qualification selection, completion rates, concession fee arrangements and student and regional based loadings.”

So, what does NSC propose?

The NSC reports that it “faced complexities in the process of collecting, compiling, processing and producing average subsidies, fees and prices in a consistent way.”

They suggest that ways for overcoming these in future collection exercises include addressing the challenge of collecting accurate available data on student tuition fees. This is needed to capture the price of VET qualifications nationally. NSC reports that:

“Currently not all jurisdictions collect data on the fees charged by RTOs for students accessing subsidies. Future collections would benefit from initiatives at the national or state and territory level aiming to improve the availability and transparency of fee information, such as a regular national collection of fees through NCVER or other mechanisms.”

The NSC also suggests that “future collections would benefit from greater information on underlying funding differentials between public and private and other non-public providers to better consider the impact of these arrangements on reported subsidies and prices.”


“Nominal hours [need to be] included (where available) in the database to consider ‘per unit’ prices. However, the availability, quality and use of nominal hour information across jurisdictions differs, with future collections likely to benefit from the development of a consistent measure of hours for training delivery, as a unit of comparison.”

However, another big issue is recognising the full and true cost of delivery, including a proper allowance for ‘hidden costs’ such as student support services as well as supporting other indirect costs of delivery. These include the costs of maintaining and enhancing teachers’ industry currency as well as their capabilities to teach and assess effectively.

Want to hear more?

You can listen to the NSC Commissioner Adam Boyton talk with TAFE Directors Australia’s CEO Craig Robertson about the report through an hour-long TAFE Talks presentation. You can access that presentation here.