New federal ministers have been announced and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment has been split up by the new federal Labor Government.

Knotty problems challenge the VET system at present, however, as an opinion piece1by Dr Craig Fowler in Campus Review suggests. The two ‘knots’ he highlights are a new National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD) and the implementation of the recommendations of the AQF Review completed in 2019 and chaired by the late Peter Noonan.

Fowler exhorts that:

“all Governments now [need to work together] collaboratively to undo these ‘old-knots’ in the nation’s best interest. Find new constructive ways of working together, or risk ongoing competitive stagnation of Australian’s skilled workforce and labour productivity.”

What we need, he thinks, is a national tertiary education funding framework and system which has been advocated by many groups including industry (see proposals by AiG and BCA), consultant bodies (e.g. KPMG), and tertiary think tanks such as Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute.

What’s happening with the NAWSD?

The NASWD has languished amid widespread concerns about the new agreement, particularly amongst Labor states. As Fowler points out, this lack of agreement “undermines jurisdictional cooperation and the flow of any additional … funding for VET skills.” Part of the issue as he sees it is the shared responsibility for VET between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments operating under a system of ‘cooperative federalism’ dating back to the 2009 report highlighted in this link. This is unlike higher education, which is federally funded.

In addition, he maintains that the ‘simpler funding model’ proposed in the 2019 Joyce Review failed in that it:

“failed to recognise nor accommodate the basis of cooperative federalism in VET, it also failed to consider the adequacy of VET funding, nor offer solutions on how to increase investment in VET (public, private or employer), nor offer solutions to fund part qualifications and micro credentials/subjects, nor did it cover the merits for wider access to loans for VET students.”

The new draft NASWD proposed by the then Coalition Government was seen, he suggests, as “a major and unacceptable repositioning for State & Territory Governments in their constitutional and Ministerial responsibilities, given their co-funding and control of their own … VET sectors.”

Turning to new AQF?

When released in 2019 the AQF Review and its reforms were heralded by (then) Minister Tehan in a joint press release with Minister Cash:

“We are providing structure and clarity to vocational education and higher education to reflect the real world,” Mr Tehan said.

“We want to make it easier for Australians to move between vocational training and higher education and to earn micro credential qualifications that will improve their productivity.

“These reforms will cut red tape and improve the operation and quality of education in Australia.”

Since then, however, Fowler maintains that the reforms to the AQF:

“have stagnated in the ‘too complex and hard basket’ not only because [the AQF] re-shapes the tertiary system and has flow on implications in rebuilding any consensus on a revised national tertiary funding/financing system; but also because reform has other far reaching, rumbling reverberations. This includes qualification/credential re-design, flow on quality and regulatory changes plus disturbing a multitude of legislative, industrial awards and professional standards all anchored to the AQF.”

Let’s see how the new Commonwealth Government and ministers will handle things and maybe bring the parties together as well as giving us a new AQF.

1 Note that this Campus Review article published in 2 June 2022 is subscription only. You will be able to access it if you are a subscriber to Campus Review either in hard copy or online by using the link above.