Luke Hartsuyker: Morning ladies and gentlemen. I’m here with Professor Peter Shergold of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to launch the report into total VET activity. I’ll make some introductory remarks, and then I’ll hand over to professor Shergold to discuss the report in more detail.
But I’d like to say that this report for the first time will give data on national courses, delivered both in the public and the private sector. It will provide us with comprehensive information with regard to the VET sector, and the results of the report are very encouraging. What we see is a VET footprint that is far broader than what we expected. What we see is the number of enrolments at a higher level than we were expecting. We are indeed a learning nation, and we see that around 3.9 million Australians are undertaking VET studies. That is a very strong vote of confidence in the VET sector.
One in four Australians of working age are receiving training in the VET sector. And that is occurring at a level that is twice the level of enrolments in the university sector. We see people right across the age continuum undertaking VET training. We are not only a learning nation, but we are a lifelong learning nation. We see some 22 per cent of VET enrolments being for people aged over the age of 45. We see people receiving initial training through VET, updating their skills through VET, and we see people transitioning from one industry to another in a dynamic labour market using VET. People are certainly voting with their feet, it is a strong vote of confidence in the VET sector.
As a Government, we’re absolutely focused on the importance of VET training to contribute to us as a high wage nation, and it’s very much part of the Government’s innovation agenda. I would like to thank all of those who contributed to the report, particularly those private providers providing data for the first time.
And now I’d like to hand over to Professor Shergold to discuss the report in more detail.
Peter Shergold: Well thank you very – yep. Thank you very much indeed Minister. This is a pretty exciting day for the National Centre for Vocational Education Researcher, NCVER. We are an independent not-for-profit company, been operating for over a generation now, and we collect the data on vocational education, and we disseminate it, and we use it to help to inform the market.
It can sound pretty dull being in statistics, collecting statistics. I can ensure you it’s not, because it is highly relevant. And what we’re doing today is announcing the best-ever statistics that have been made available to the public on what’s going on in the vocational education sector. And I think it’s data that’s presented in a really interesting and useful way.
The statistics that are coming out today are going to do two—three things. First, very important and very much in keeping with the Government’s agenda, it is providing transparency; the transparency that is needed to scrutinise the competitive delivery of vocational education and training. The second thing it does is it stimulates research, which can turn that information into knowledge. And third, perhaps most importantly, what this information does is it provides the evidence that can inform governments of how best to invest public resources in order to get the very best returns from vocational education. How best to plan our workforce for the future. How to get the greatest efficiency from the development of our human capital. How to ensure equity and access to vocational education. How best to help Australians not only become better workers, because that’s important, but how they can actually build careers, or set up businesses, and value education, and get more engaged with society.
Today, I want you to know, is a particularly exciting one, because we are releasing far more information on the VET sector than we have ever done before, on 4600 training organisations. The amount of data we’re releasing today you can measure in different ways, the number of lines of data, the number of training organisations covered, the number of students, but it effectively is doubling the amount of data that we’re now able to provide on vocational education. And what a remarkable picture it tells, as the Minister has indicated to you. And this is just the start. Next year this total VET activity data will be even better, and of course this year we’ve actually introduced a unique student identifier, so every student who is undertaking vocational education will see their route being able to be monitored. And they will be able to get transcripts of their vocational education record. For the first time, next year we’ll start to get an idea of how people use vocational education, how will they move from part time, full time, from vocational education into other institutions, from vocational education into work. So this is the start of a much more transparent picture than we have ever had before on vocational education.
And what does this data show? Well for me, two key things. And they reiterate, in large measure, what the Minister has said.
The first is that it is starkly obvious that vocational education is the peoples’ choice of education. Not only do more students study vocational education, and often move in and out of the university sector, but it is the most accessible form of education. It’s the form that most disadvantaged Australians can make use of. If you look at those Australians who live in the postal codes that are the lowest 20 per cent by social economic status, when you look at what’s in the vocational education you find 20 per cent of the students come from that sector. In other words it’s very different from the university sector in terms of being accessible to all Australians – Indigenous Australians, Australians in remote and rural areas. This is in education that is, in general, low cost and is accessible.
The second thing that stands out is that students are today being offered far more choice than they have ever had in the past. They can choose between part time and full time study, between online courses, at the workplace training, in institution training. They can choose between TAFEs and private providers and community education providers. There is more choice to students in vocational education than we have ever had before. This is a remarkable story of, as the Minister has said, one in four Australians – working age Australians – making use of vocational education every year. So it’s a great story.
So thank you very much to the Minister for making time available in his very busy schedule. Thank you to the governments who have the collective will – Commonwealth and state governments – the boldness to improve this data accessibility in such a transformational way. Thank you of course to all the people, Craig Fowler, the managing director, and all those staff at the National Centre for Vocational Education Research who have made this data accessible. But thank you most of all to the 4601 providers who have got on board and who have made this data available. It gives us a much, much better picture of vocational education and training than we have ever had before. Thank you.
Luke Hartsuyker: Thank you professor. Any questions?
Question: Mr Hartsuyker, you’ve obviously got the legislation going through the House now regarding VET FEE-HELP, but you’ve said you want to do more in that regard. What are you looking to do? Are you looking at capping prices, something that you haven’t wanted to do up until now? And when are you going to be looking at another set of reforms?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well, I’d just like to make the comment that we have a situation, as highlighted by the report today, that there’s 3.9 million people currently undertaking VET. And to put that in perspective, VET FEE-HELP loans sit at around six per cent. So it is a relatively small proportion of the total number of people who are undertaking VET study. So the VET sector is strong. People, as I said, are voting with their feet, they are seeing the value of their qualifications and they are engaging in the VET sector, entering into and leaving the sector as their skills needs require. So it is a very different market, it is a very different market to the higher education sector in many ways.
With regard to the changes before the House, Senator Birmingham has acted very strongly in setting out a plan with regards to dealing with the problem providers in the VET FEE-HELP sector to protect students; to protect taxpayers; to ensure that we get the outcomes that we want – which is quality training that is accessible and affordable. With regard to your specific question, I have a range of measures which I am looking at with regard to making the system more robust. But let me say that the VET sector as a whole is a very strong sector, contributing strongly to our national productivity. It is very much part of the Government’s innovation agenda and will help drive our productivity forward.
Question: But is it right that companies should be able to charge whatever they want and then the taxpayer foots the bill up front? It’s very different to the university sector.
Luke Hartsuyker: Well I think there’s a place for a competitive market. I think that it is important that we have price signals within that market. But with regard to the broader question you asked, I’m looking at a range of measures and I’ll be having something to say in due course.
Question: Do the measures include capping tuition fees?
Luke Hartsuyker: I’m not going to rule measures in or out and play this game all morning. But I’m very much focused on the fact that there are issues within the sector. Having said that, it is a strong sector, there are issues, the Government is mindful of those issues and will be acting appropriately.
Question: Just on another issue, the Newspoll is- strong results once again for the Coalition. What do you believe is the reason for these results remaining quite stable and improving?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well I’ll leave you to speculate on the reasons why a poll moves one way or another. But let me say that Labor’s only response to the Government’s conversation with the Australian people on tax reform is a scare campaign. And it is certainly important that the Government has a strong discussion involving all sectors in the community as to the ways in which we can reform the tax system to increase our national wealth, to increase national productivity, to encourage and incentivise people to do more and build a stronger economy. Labor on the other hand has no plan. Their only plan is to oppose everything. Their only plan is to run a scare campaign, and I think people are judging that.
Question: So are you suggesting that the scare campaign isn’t sitting well with voters?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well look I think when I talk to people they are very open to the thought that we need a tax system that is going to meet Australia’s needs in the 21st century rather than the Labor Government’s approach of looking through the rear view mirror, looking to where we’ve come from, rather than where we’re going to. We as a nation need to incentivise all of our citizens to be their best selves, to get out there and produce wealth for this country.
The Labor Party particularly focusses on low income earners and particularly tries to scare low income earners with regards to a range of adverse measures which I’m not going to repeat. But let me say that low income earners need a strong and prosperous economy. Low income earners are those who suffer the most when the economy turns down.
That’s why we are looking at tax reform to deliver better outcomes for all Australians and that includes lower income Australians. They depend on transfer payments for much of their income, they depend on government services. So we want to ensure that we grow the pie, Labor is all about cutting up the pie.
Question: Do you have a view about Labor’s idea of charging more for cigarettes to pay for school education [indistinct].
Luke Hartsuyker: I’m going to leave Labor to put forward what paltry proposals that they have. The Government is all about looking at the tax system so that we can have a tax system going forward that meets the needs of Australians.
Question: Some of your National Party colleagues have basically said they don’t want to see an increase in the GST, do you think that’s helpful at this stage of the conversation?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well I think it’s important that we have a broad debate and people have a wide range of views, I was actually listening to a range of vox pops taken in Port Macquarie, just on the weekend and there was very broad acceptance. Very broad acceptance of the idea that the tax system needs to be reformed and that a range of measures that are currently just being discussed, I think are appropriate to be considered but against the backdrop that we need to protect the vulnerable and that’s very much what the Government is about and that’s what we’ve been saying- that we want to have a tax system that meets the needs of the 21st century but one of the key factors in that is protecting the vulnerable but at the same time encouraging people to invest, to save, and to grow their businesses.
Question: Most farming groups are against GST on fresh food, would the National Party fight the Liberal Party on that one if that was on the table?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well what the National Party wants to see is a tax system that meets the needs of the 21st century and we would all agree that there are some significant problems with regard to the current system, it needs reform, the Government is having a discussion with the Australian people on reform and I think if you have no further questions in relation…
Question: Just got a question for the professor, please, if that was okay.
Luke Hartsuyker: Please yes.
Question: You obviously- heading up the resettlement process of settling refugees in New South Wales, I just wanted to know how that process was going and whether New South Wales will take in that first contingent by Christmas time?
Peter Shergold: The Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, has made it clear that he is willing to take more than his fair share of the number of refugees who are coming from that Syrian conflict. We’re expecting them to arrive in small numbers this year but mostly over the course of next year and the aim is to plan to make sure that those refugees are not just getting the settlement services they require as speedy as possible, but are also being able to be integrated into society. To get adult migrant English if they need it, to have their children in education, to get training— often will be through vocational education in training and to find work.
That is the aim of the coordination that I am doing. And the aim here isn’t just to have the Commonwealth Government and the State Government agencies working together. It’s to have governments working with the community sector and with business and with tertiary education institutions to make sure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet, that we are all working together to make sure that when refugees are accepted into our country, as they have been historically, they have the maximum opportunity to build life for themselves and to contribute back to Australian society.
Question: So how many families do you think will be in New South Wales by Christmas?
Peter Shergold: We don’t know how the distribution will take place. Before Christmas it will only be a handful. Most will come throughout the course of 2016 and of course it will depend on how many of the refugees have family links with Australia already and how many do not what the distribution will be. What I do know is that from the time the first additional refugees arrive we will be prepared.
Luke Hartsuyker: Thank you.