Australia needs more TAFE not more unis

By Leith van Onselen

The Mitchell Institute’s 2017 report has been released, which shows that while funding to universities has skyrocketed over the past decade in real terms, funding for vocational education and training (VET) has plummeted to a decade low. From The Conversation:

The chart below shows the trends in expenditure over an 11-year period to 2015-16. This analysis uses 2005-06 as the base index year. Indexing enables comparison of change over time from a common starting point, which is 100 here. So, an increase from 100 to 102 would represent a 2% increase. All expenditure values are in 2015-16 dollars, converted to real terms using a GDP deflator…

The figures include all expenditure by government entities – meaning by governments (to both public and private education providers) and also by public schools, TAFEs and universities. This gives us an approximate picture of where the dollars are flowing, and how this is changing over time.

What’s important here is the increasing disparity in expenditure growth between the sectors, particularly between VET and higher education…

This comparison confirms widespread concerns about VET going backwards. Expenditure in 2015-16 was 4.7% below the level in 2005-06.

This tells a worrying story about quality vocational education and training not being a priority for governments.

Key growth employment areas like aged care, early childhood education and hospitality rely on vocational training for skilled workers. Building up vocationally qualified workers in the growing service and caring industries will be essential, particularly as employment in the manufacturing sector declines…

The situation facing the VET sector is probably now even worse than suggested above, given most of the enrollments were in private colleges, which have been gripped by scandal.

In 2015 the federal government introduced a number of reforms to the VET loan system designed to curb unsustainable growth and address unscrupulous behaviour, and resulted in the total amount of loans for 2016 almost halving, decreasing by more than $1.4 billion compared to 2015, from $2.92 billion to $1.47 billion.

The 2016-17 Department of Employment skills shortages report also showed that while skills shortages were low overall, conditions were tighter in the trades:

Because they are experiencing relatively few apprenticeship and trainee commencements and completions:

By contrast, the university sector is way oversupplied, with a record number of Aussies studying at university:

Of whom many graduates cannot gain meaningful employment:

By contrast, employment outcomes are much stronger in the trades, reflecting the relative undersupply:

The above data from the Department of Employment does support the view that Australia is spending way too much on university and not enough on VET. Accordingly, it should divert some funding towards publicly-run TAFEs, which according to the 2016 VET FEE-HELP Statistical Report, offer lower course fees and have much higher completion rates than private (rorted) VET providers.

[email protected]


  1. i wouldn’t be so enthusiastic to push people into TAFE either, since the end result of that will just be trading one type of qualification glut for another. if anything, plenty of TAFE courses don’t really need to exist, such as the “retail” certificate. much of what passes for qualifications at university and TAFE is infinitely more suited to workplace training, the only puzzle is figuring out how to get employers to train people themselves again. and this is not easy to do.

    • But the fact remains that we have a lawyer glut and a tradie shortage. A lot of tradies won’t even return calls where I live — too busy

      • We need 457 visas for tradies then…

        Luckily the tradies are protected by their trade bodies just like medical specialists, so it is an old fashioned closed shop, so it won’t happen, unlike engineers and IT guys.

    • […] the only puzzle is figuring out how to get employers to train people themselves again. and this is not easy to do.

      Make employees valuable again, rather than cheap, disposable cogs in the machine.

      Lowering immigration and restoring some legal rights/bargaining power to workers would be a good start.

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      My biggest fear, in employing an Apprentice,..esp a dopey young clumsy one, the financial liability/Risk I bear if he seriously injures himself,…so much domestic plumbing work is just not 100% worksafe compliant,…roof and Gutter stuff in particular!
      No insurance for a 300k workcover fine if he trips coming down a ladder and dies on me,…there goes the House!

      I had a Safe working at heights trainer once tell me,… Not a single Roof truss is installed legally in NSW, if a worker dies from a fall, the small contractor that employs him is bankrupted, the fine is levied on the individual owner operator as well as the business,…there is no insurance for this!

      Who wants to carry that risk!

      I’ve got another plumber Mate who does over $100k/year in clearing out gutters on tiled 3, 4, 5 and 6 story apartment blocks around Hornsby and Sydney’s North,…goes up with his son and a subby to do the work with modified leaf blowers and has been fined over $30k over the last 3 or 4 years from mostly dobbers and random Workcover turn ups.
      I reject all working at height work these days,…just to avoid the workcover Gestapo

  2. The Horrible Scott Morrison MP

    Once again you’re not thinking laterally. If we send more people to TAFE than to University, who’ll be left to serve coffee after 4 years? Plus it would be unfair if not everyone in the country had a university degree and 50k in student debt.

    • Hill Billy 55MEMBER

      Are you trying to out Reusa Reusa? A couple of extra IP’s and I’m sure you’ll be almost as good looking.

      • The Horrible Scott Morrison MP

        As per the members’ register of interests, the only property interest I have is my family home. And anyway, it’s not my fault if any one of a number of discretionary family trusts decides to invest in property and disburse the readies to me. And anyway, they’re a fundamental part of the tax system. And anyway, shut up.

  3. Australia needs to read what The Economist says about apprenticeships in Germany.

    And of course put a massive tax on each foreign worker – offset by any income tax the foreign worker pays – to ensure that Aussies are hired instead of 457 visa staff.

    • Yes, Yes, a thousand times yes. The connection between study and a job is so strong here in Germany – at Uni, and vocational level. The vocational system here combines an agreement with an employer to train an apprentice few days a week, with 2-3 days study a week. Study is free for the student and they are paid a wage. Businesses get the skilled workers they need and students gain employment. Requires some planning, but so much better than the ad hoc approach that we have in Aus of just issuing Visa’s for workers for a so called shortage. Once you go down the Visa path, it becomes difficult to go back…Businesses and Industry become accustomed to not needing to bring in young employees and growing them over time.

      • MediocritasMEMBER

        Shocking! Knowledge and skills learned during training are coupled to what employers actually need in the field?

        What is this madness? This is Straya, out-of-date STEM degree for all and she’ll be right mate!

  4. Australia needs more government operated TAFEs – not private colleges. Privately run vocational training is a rort. If state governments can run public secondary schools with moderate efficiency, they can run TAFEs.

  5. Rubbish Jim – the reason private RTO’s grew so much was due to industry demand. Many TAFE’s are tired, Ive met apprentices who were lucky to see a trainer twice a year under the TAFE system. I had an employee who emailed his resume to a TAFE in WA and was RPL’d for a Certificate III in Civil Construction – so TAFE’s can be as dodgy as privates. Privately run vocational training was rorted because the government set up a system where RTO’s (including TAFES) were incentivised to sign students into higher level funded courses. One of the top recipients of VET FEE Help funding was TAFE NSW – but you won’t see them go the way of Careers Australia or other providers because they are a TAFE. We need a funding model based on student completion and feedback – and competency over time. Both TAFE’s and private providers have alot to offer.