Friday, December 21, 2012

The Neglected Sector: The Year That Changed TAFE in Australia

TAFE Action - TAFE teachers and students rally...
TAFE Action - TAFE teachers and students rally outside Premier Baillieu's office (Photo credit: Takver)
by Christopher Stone, PhD Student at Macquarie University, The Conversation:

This year, the majority of TAFEs across the country have been threatened by state government changes to the sector.

In New South Wales and Victoria, vocational education has seen institutional closures, loss of expertise and reduced opportunities for students. The Queensland government, too, is looking at similar changes to save money on vocational education.

This stands in stark contrast with the debate around government support for higher education. This funding is widely accepted - the discussion mostly looks at why it should be increased not whether it should exist at all.

We justifiably assume that Australia benefits from a well supported higher education sector and from university students who contribute to a higher skilled economy, a more informed political debate, and a richer more well rounded society.

So why is it that cuts to vocational education often fly under the radar?

Who benefits?

With vocational education and training (VET) the same arguments about the benefits of education to our economy and society apply, and are perhaps even stronger than for higher education. Stronger because the TAFEs and the private vocational colleges that make up the sector, are more accessible to a number of disadvantaged groups.

My recent research on the VET sector shows the role VET plays in both addressing disadvantage as well as the substantial government return on its investment.

Returns on investments have been estimated as more than six to one for NSW TAFEs. And a potential two to one return on investments in the VET sector nationally.

Beyond the purely economic arguments, there is an even stronger case that it provides substantial social benefits by giving a forum for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their options.

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