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Private providers favoured over "uncompetitive" TAFE: Marshall


Premier Steven Marshall says his Government is likely to favour private vocational training providers over TAFE, saying if equivalent courses are available in the non-Government sector “then maybe TAFE won’t be providing that work in the future”.

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The state’s Education Union and Labor Opposition have been railing against the “privatisation by stealth” of state’s vocational training provider TAFE SA, with union president Lara Golding writing to the Premier this week “seeking urgent answers about [his] plans”.

The letter, seen by InDaily, says union members “are highly anxious about the impact of proposed course closures on their livelihoods and on vocational education students in SA”, asking: “How many courses will the Marshall Government cut from TAFE?”

Marshall did not clarify that question today, but was unapologetic about an escalating shift to private providers, insisting his Government’s policy remained “that TAFE needs to be efficient and that’s why all the work is now contestable”.

“Of course, TAFE has a higher obligation than the private providers because they’ve got some community service obligations which government needs to have in place, so the board of TAFE needs to balance those two areas – and where there are private providers that can provide that work then maybe TAFE won’t be providing that work in the future,” Marshall told reporters today.

The reality is that what we’ve seen over an extended period of time is that TAFE hasn’t been price competitive

His comments also followed Opposition concerns about an online Q&A for Registered Training Organisations [RTOs] posted by the Department of Innovation & Skills in September.

In it, agency executive director Madeleine Richardson was asked whether government funding would “be open to interstate-based RTOs and/or will local RTOs be given a boosted rating”, responding: “We need to go through a process to ensure quality is front of mind as we work through that.”

“We want a stable and resilient market where there’s lots of confidence in what we’re doing [and] basing this around market sounding is part of our guide and our evidence to ensure we’re making decisions based on quality delivery,” she said.

“We may find out there are gaps in the market that may need to be serviced differently… it’s one to watch, it’s one to consider as we build the evidence and insights.”

She added that “if that eventuates, we’re very mindful and considerate of the local market needs and your capacity to grow”.

TAFE students who applied for certain courses were last week directed to a site which told them: “While one or more of the courses you’ve listed as a preference through SATAC will no longer be delivered by TAFE SA in 2021, there are a range of other training providers delivering the same government-subsidised qualification.”

The link lists 23 courses – more than the 20 cuts that were announced last month – and suggests alternative providers including RTOs based in Mildura and Wagga Wagga.

A screenshot of the website.

Opposition Education spokesman Blair Boyer said the cuts would “gut TAFE and further diminish competition in the marketplace, allowing private RTOs to increase  course prices”.

But Marshall said “it’s not about interstate private providers or state private providers”.

“We don’t differentiate,” he said.

“The reality is, we have RTOs here in SA and nationally, and what we want to do is get the best training outcomes for our state – that’s our highest priority.

“We’ve been doing very poorly under the previous government… the TAFE provision of service comes at a much higher cost than what the private sector can provide and we’ve got an obligation as a government to get as many people trained as possible.”

He noted his Government had spent $100 million on TAFE’s “transition” after several courses were halted under the previous government for failing to meet national standards.

“This Government is focussed on training outcomes,” he said.

“What we need to do is make sure we’re focusing TAFE on the areas we need to focus them on, and if the private sector can do it at a more competitive rate then I want the training outcome… if TAFE can do it at that competitive rate, then fair enough – but the reality is that what we’ve seen over an extended period of time is that TAFE hasn’t been price competitive.”

Asked if the end point of the transition was to eliminate public provision of courses, he said: “That’s not our plan at all.”

Golding said TAFE lecturers had “this week heard of further cuts, including cuts to courses in mechanics and mental health”.

“This is privatisation by stealth and ultimately it will be the community who pays,” she said.

“This state government talks about the creation of a ‘contestable market’ for vocational education but instead directs TAFE not to compete against private providers – private providers are being encouraged to pick up the most profitable courses.”

TAFE SA chief David Coltman said in a statement the organisation “annually reviews its course offer to ensure it is aligned to the needs for the state’s current and future jobs”.

“This is business as usual activity,” he said.

“We are planning to deliver the same volume of training hours in 2021 as this year.”

He said the course changes were necessary “to innovate and transform our teaching and learning environment to ensure South Australians are learning the skills they need now and into the future”.

“Having the ability to pivot course delivery to meet industry and employer demand ensures students are receiving the right education and training that will provide pathways to jobs in SA,” he said.

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