Coping with these unprecedented changes to our lives has not left the broader VET and community education sectors unscathed.

Who knows how long this will go on and how long it will take to recover. Importantly, what -and who – will survive? Even more importantly, what is being done to help?

COAG is on the case

The recent communique from the April meeting of COAG’s Skills Council highlights what they will try to do to protect students, training providers and the Australian workforce.

The Council agreed:

“to take immediate action to ensure a core of training system capacity remains operational as an essential service across all jurisdictions. This will enable the VET system to continue to deliver training for critical COVID-19 related skills and ensure it is well positioned for recovery.”

The Chair of the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) has been requested to establish an emergency COVID-19 sub-committee “to enable short-term and urgent adjustments to be rapidly made to the qualifications and training package requirements to support critical training delivery.”

The Council has also moved to implement actions to support TAFE, public and private provider viability and has tasked the Skills Senior Officials’ Network (SSON) to provide urgent advice.

How is COVID affecting TAFEs and private providers?

The first thing is loss of capacity. In our last update on COVID, TAFEs were still open. Information from a recent TAFE Directors Australia’s 30 March newsletter pointed out that almost all state and territory systems were ‘pausing’ their face-to-face delivery and moving, where possible,  to more distance-based and online approaches. However, in Victoria TDA reported in that newsletter that the Victorian government had announced the shutdown of many non-essential services, but this did not include TAFEs, Learn Locals or training organisations at that stage. To get the most up to date information the Victorian TAFE Association’s website provides details about the current status of each of the TAFE providers and dual sectors in the state.

ASQA has an advice site, which includes a series of FAQs to try to help providers in the current circumstances. It also contains a joint statement by TEQSA and ASQA on regulatory flexibility. ASQA is offering the opportunity for training providers adversely affected by COVID-19 to place their registrations on hold until the COVID crisis passes. Information about that can be found here. In addition, ASQA has recognised that some providers “may need to implement temporary measures as they adapt and respond to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” A form about this that can be completed online is available here.

The body representing independent providers, ITECA, has an online roundtable and set of resources for its members only, but has produced  an advocacy document and action plan calling for a series of support measures to help providers through the crisis. Media releases have called on Government to protect private provision, coupled with a call to provide $13 million to help expedite delivery online.

Private providers are not alone in expressing concerns and calling for support, though, and adult and community education is also facing significant challenges, according to Adult Learning Australia (ALA).

Saving community education?

The ‘call to action’ in ALA’s recent media release points to the vital role the sector’s 2500 providers play in “providing accessible lifelong and lifewide learning opportunities,” particularly for those in disadvantaged and vulnerable groups or who are newly unemployed.

ALA calls for a range of Government support to help the sector “thrive and survive” by, amongst other things:

  1. Providing direct financial support to ensure the sustainability of the ACE sector
  2. Funding professional development for the sector and their transition to online learning
  3. Providing top up funding to established state and territory initiatives for ACE providers to gear up support to out of work learners to re-skill and re-train
  4. Ensuring support for adult learners with low levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills and resourcing access to mental health programs for ACE educators to help them to deliver to their communities.