A recent TDA TAFE Talks presentation focused on the impact of the last two decades of research of VET policy on TAFE and examined the future of TAFE and the sector inlight of the current policy agenda and the 2024/25 Federal budget. It featured presentations by NCVER’s CEO, Simon Walker along with comments from Craig Robertson and Mary Faraone, the CEO of Holmsglen TAFE in Victoria.

In one of his last activities as head of NCVER, Simon gave an excellent account of VET’s policy and reform history including VET’s coming together as a national system, the establishment of ANTA, the move to notions of competition and a VET market, the development of nationally recognised qualifications and the growth of providers other than TAFE through user choice initially for employers and increasingly for individuals under entitlement funding. Competition would also drive up quality, it was thought.

TAFE is seen as a ‘public good’ provider at the heart of the system, but what does the data tell us? Over time, however:

  • Enrolment numbers have not really changed significantly from 2003 to 2022
  • TAFE has lost market share in relation to enrolments
  • Private providers have grabbed a lot of the market
  • TAFE has lost its share in a range of areas – including students with a disability, first nations enrolments and students in remote and very remote areas despite their being thin markets.

Therefore, competition has really opened up the market but TAFE is still very prominent in foundational program areas. Competition is driven in reality by price and convenience, however. And TAFE can be seen as relatively more expensive and not as agile and hungry for the business.

The issue of the industry led-VET system was raised and the consequent loss of an educator voice. Has that been a good thing, and the answer seems to be maybe not? Other issues raised include the inflexibility of products such as training packages, and concerns over the notion of competency and the way that is enacted in Australia. More concern is needed about the inputs to the system and the extent to which good inputs lead to good outcomes and drive up quality, the presentation suggests. Over-regulation never helps either.