The Queensland Government’s blueprint for reform of vocational education and training (VET), Great Skills Real Opportunities, which was released in June last year, goes a long way toward creating a more efficient and responsive VET sector, but falls short in some areas. The reform program is right to make training funding contestable and to corporatize TAFE, but it falls short of what would be ideal regarding the setting of public subsidies for training courses.
Queensland’s VET system still lacks a clear, rigorous methodology for setting the public subsidy for training courses – that is, is the level of contribution from the Government to help cover course costs, in addition to what is provided by students in course fees. This was apparent last week when the Education and Training Minister announced this year’s list of apprenticeship and traineeships that would be fee-free and fully publicly subsidised (see the Ministerial press release).
I was rather surprised to see that training in oil & gas drilling would be fee-free. This is a bit odd given the high level of private benefits, in the form of higher earnings, that would accrue to people completing the course. It’s unclear what degree of analysis was undertaken in identifying the priority courses listed in the press release. I would expect that any rigorous subsidy-setting methodology would dial down the subsidy level where there were large expected private benefits through higher earnings.
If the Government is concerned that course fees might discourage people from training, then, instead of making courses it identifies as priorities fee-free, it should instead work with the Commonwealth to introduce income-contingent loans, similar to HECS-HELP in the higher education sector, for all VET courses. This way a student could defer upfront fees that might discourage him or her from studying, and pay back the loan when they’re in the workforce and earning a reasonable amount of money.