Vice-Chancellors of Australia’s six dual sector institutions offer “suggestions for a more coherent tertiary education system” and suggest some policy settings that might help that.

It was prepared in response to the interim report by the Productivity Commission on the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development.

What do they suggest?

First, the Vice-Chancellors’ paper is concerned about the applicability of free market principles that the Productivity Commission is proposing, given the past failures in this approach: most notably through VET FEE HELP and the use of markets in Victoria through the Victorian Training Guarantee. The V-Cs suggest that the outcomes of the free market: competition driving improved quality did not materialise, leading to exploitation of funding by a number of private providers and a race to the bottom as both ethical private providers and the public VET system sought to remain viable in Victoria. They also feel that public providers, including their own, face unfair competitive pressures because they cannot dispose of facilities and resources that are no longer viable as these were publicly owned. Moreover, community service obligations make it harder for them to cherry-pick the most viable courses and student groups to maximise their returns.

On the other hand, the V-Cs see that it is “imperative that taxpayers have full confidence they are supporting quality, standardised provision which will result in employable graduates.” In addition, providers need to:

“to equip graduates with broad, transferable capabilities which will serve them over their entire careers, in addition to specific skill requirements which are subject to change.”

OK, VDC News has been singing from this hymn book for a while too.

The V-Cs call for more coherent funding of tertiary education: HE and VET, full implementation of the AQF reforms, “modernising VET qualifications and their development to focus competencies on broad and future skills requirements” and finally “further extending work-based learning opportunities into new and emerging industries and occupations in both VET and higher education, through partnerships with firms, industries and the labour movement.”

Attractive as it might be, making the Commonwealth totally responsible for funding VET may not be the answer either; rather they suggest that “the overarching system architecture must be overhauled to be both coherent and fit for purpose, with better alignment of loan schemes and public subsidy levels a must if a lasting and effective agreement is to be struck.” So, this means looking at the whole tertiary system and the ways it is funded more carefully. The dual sector universities have suggested that:

 “a sensible approach would be for the Commonwealth to assume funding responsibility for all AQF level 5 and 6 courses, which are currently offered in both vocational and higher education settings, and those courses where credit-based learning pathways are negotiated and formalised between VET and HE providers.”

Finally, VET funding can be messy, not only within but between states and “the widening disparity between States in subsidy levels and eligibility requirements is creating a lopsided and inconsistent market for students and providers which operate in two or more jurisdictions.” Rather, the Vice-Chancellors suggest that:

“Course fee caps agreed between the States and matched by an income contingent loan scheme administered by the Commonwealth is one possible solution to this dilemma, however accountability and responsibility would need to be jointly shared between both levels of government, on strict terms agreed at the outset and guaranteed for the long term, subject to periodic review.”

The new National Skills Commission has funding as part of its remit. Let’s see what happens.