Advancing Australia’s VET Sector – curated industry news #04 2022

An invigorating and much-needed breath of fresh air in Australia as we welcome a new Federal Labor government under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Clinching a parliamentary majority more than a week after the federal election, the Albanese government will now have the required strength to push through bills on a range of key issues from climate change to anti-corruption measures and, we all hope, on the power of education to transform lives when equitable access is provided.

Jason Clare MP has been appointed the new Federal Minister for Education with the role of Federal Minister for Skills and Training returning to Brendan O’Connor MP which he held when Labor was last in government: “I’m looking forward to starting work in this vitally important area,” he said.

In his first public statement regarding stepping into his role as Education Minister, Jason Clare MP said:

“Education is the most powerful cause for good in this country. It will be an extraordinary privilege to serve as Minister for Education in an Albanese Labor Government.”

In the past month, Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor has underscored current issues in the vocational education and training sector, stating:

“There are acute skills shortages in many sectors of our labour market and economy and it is imperative that we properly match taxpayer investment in training and education and supplying the labour market what it needs.”

Current workforce trends identified by the new government have revealed the supply of workers each year will not be adequate to meet the demand, particularly for jobs requiring a vocational level education.

Commenting on the change of leadership, Claire Field of Claire Field & Associates said: “Labor’s election win means changes for both TAFE Institutes and private providers. But there are also broader strategic shifts underway.” We’ve included more details below.

The new ministerial leadership team definitely have their work cut out for them. Claire Field has recently commented on what she sees as “worrying trends in the international VET sector” following issues caused by unscrupulous providers which triggered the previous international student crisis.

This includes suspected visa fraud in India and Nepalese ‘students’ suddenly flooding in to work unlimited hours. The Australian Financial Review notes:

“(The) huge surge in approvals for student visas from Nepal is likely being driven by non-genuine students who want to take advantage of the removal of a cap on the number of hours they could work and possible corruption of the visa approval process.”

In January 2022, the Morrison government temporarily removed the 40-hour-a-fortnight cap on the number of hours people on student visas could work. At the time, concerns were raised about the potential for genuine students to be under pressure from families to work as many hours as possible, while others described it a “low-skill work visa in disguise”.

To the end of March, there were 6,312 applications from Nepal to study a vocational course in Australia, with visa approvals running at an exceptionally high 85 per cent. Application numbers for China and India, the two largest source countries for overseas students, were 3,930 and 3,483 respectively.

As a former VET regulator Claire Fields says her alarm bells are currently ringing loudly and she sees a very real need for strong and appropriate scrutiny of all new CRICOS providers.

George Tan, Adjunct Fellow at the Hugo Centre for Population & Migration Studies at the University of Adelaide agrees, commenting:

“there are current signals from the international VET sector of a potential repeat of what we experienced in the late 2000s when we had a raft of second-rate or even worse, bogus VET operators. This could damage Australia’s international education sector at a critical time.”

Additionally, inflation is also predicted to impact Australia’s attraction as a study destination

The long awaited release of the updated Training Package for the Events, Travel, Tourism & Hospitality sectors to meet current and future industry needs industry was completed by SkillsIQ this month, under the direction of Tourism, Travel & Hospitality Industry Reference Committee.

Further updated training packages for individual support, disability, ageing and home care are in the review pipeline and we all eagerly await them!

Fun times indeed, but at least there is some new energy and direction in the air to help us forge a positive path forwards.