The 2013–14 Budget is a relatively quiet one for the vocational education and training (VET) sector.
The National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development enters its second year of five years (2012–13 to 2016–17). In 2013–14, $1.4 billion will be allocated to states and territories under the Specific Purpose Payment, and a further $352.6 million in National Partnership payments. There is further national support for VET through the $1.6 billion allocated to skills programs administered by the Department. This is a substantial investment that retains a low profile.
In terms of new measures, the establishment of the Apprenticeships–Alternative Pathways Program aims to fast track apprenticeship training in high demand industries that are experiencing skills shortages. The program is worth $68.8 million over four years, most of which will go to peak industry bodies and large employers. They are expected to train an additional 4,000 apprentices.
The inclusion of a $2,000 per apprentice incentive payment for employers is in contrast to last year’s Budget, which saved more than $400 million by reducing some apprenticeship incentives and scrapping others (as noted in Budget Review 2012–13).
The Apprenticeships–Alternative Pathways Program is being partly funded by redirection of $18.0 million over three years from the Australian Skills Centres of Excellence Program. The Skills Centres Program was itself created in last year’s Budget from a redirection of funds. The three target industries were never announced and the program appears to have foundered before it commenced.
Also of note in this year’s Budget is a redirection of $15.0 million to offset a projected shortfall in revenue for the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). ASQA charges Registered Training Organisations for provider registration, course accreditation and the like, and is eventually intended to be self-funded via these cost-recovery arrangements. The ASQA website notes that its fees are currently under review.
In Budget Strategy and Outlook: Budget Paper No. 1: 2013–14 the Government attributes rapid growth in outstanding Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt—$2.1 billion more than projected in the past year alone—partly to expansion of the VET FEE-HELP scheme. VET FEE-HELP provides income contingent loans to students of higher-level VET courses such as diplomas and advanced diplomas. Take-up has been slow, and prompted recent changes to the operation of the VET FEE-HELP scheme in order to increase its use. It follows that the share of HELP debt held by vocational education and training students should continue to rise.
. Australia, Parliamentary Library, Budget review 2012–13, Research paper, 9, 2011–12, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012, accessed 16 May 2013.
. Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), ‘Fees and charges’, ASQA website, accessed 16 May 2013.
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