TAFE SA and serious issues of non-compliance
The Australian Greens and Coalition senators believe scrutiny is never a bad thing. It is disappointing that the Australian Labor Party at both a state and federal level have sought to frustrate the operation of this inquiry, voting against the inquiry itself in the Senate and with the South Australian Labor Government making no submission to provide the committee a more thorough account of the failures that have led to the TAFE SA debacle.
1.2On 6 December 2017, the Senate referred the following matter to the Education and Employment References Committee for inquiry and report by 28 February 2018:
the failures in TAFE SA that have resulted in suspension of courses, as well as quality issues with the provision of training;
the effective use by the South Australian Labor Government of $771 million provided over six years from the Federal Government to support vocational education and training in South Australia;
the impact of the South Australian Government’s $91 million in funding cuts over five years on students, industry and the broader community;
the role and impact of the scrapped Skills for All policy, and its replacement Work Ready policy;
the impact and frequency of changes made by the South Australian Government to its Training Subsidy List;
the adequacy of the oversight of TAFE SA by its leadership, board and the South Australian Government, as well as national regulatory oversight by the Australian Skills Quality Authority and other agencies; and
any other relevant matters.
The motion for the inquiry was supported by a cross-section of the Australian Senate: NXT, Australian Greens and the Coalition.
It is a major concern that our largest provider of skills and training in South Australia, the South Australian Government’s TAFE SA, has had two high profile issues of non-compliance in 2017.
Committee members concluded that serious issues identified by national regulators Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) warranted further investigation by the Australian Senate.
The previous Federal Labor Government made fundamental policy and governance errors with the expanded VET FEE-HELP Scheme that opened the door to rorting by unconscionable training providers and wasted billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money.
It led to severe reputational damage to the vocational education and training (VET) sector and left many young Australians with debt, but no job.
There has been maladministration as displayed by the South Australian Government’s handling of TAFE. It is of importance that this does not occur again and individual cases of quality issues are investigated and addressed, particularly given the results of audit reports from two regulatory authorities, CASA and ASQA.
CASA undertook an audit in March 2017 of TAFE SA’s aircraft maintenance engineering course. There were 18 instance of serious non-compliance and nine instances of less serious non-compliance. This audit identified the following issues:
examinations did not meet the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations minimum requirements;
some students had not completed the theoretical examinations; and
independent audits conducted by TAFE SA Quality Department were incomplete.
Up to 80 students from the TAFE SA aircraft maintenance training course had their accreditation suspended. A CASA spokesman said some former students could have to complete additional training, essentially redoing parts of the course.
In September 2017, ASQA issued TAFE SA with a notice of intention to remove 15 qualifications and suspend one following the audit of March 2017 that identified systemic non-compliance. The ASQA submission stated:
The audit identified critical and systemic non-compliances across the training examined. Non-compliances related to marketing, training and assessment strategies, assessment systems and trainer and assessor skills.
In December 2017 ASQA handed down their decision to suspend 14 TAFE SA courses.
The extent of the non-compliance issues raised in the ASQA evidence analysis report is alarming:
Automotive Refinishing Technology Certificate 3: there was concern on how many hours was spent on training and all students interviewed stated they had not had to have any documents signed off by their employer.
Commercial cookery course: there was no confirmation of access to current commercial food safety programs, policies and procedures.
Certificate 3 in Electro technology Electrician: a unit to do with repairing faults contained incomplete assessment activities and included incorrect answers where the student was marked as correct.
The ASQA rating for TAFE SA was previously 'Generally Compliant' and is now 'Demonstrated Rarely Compliant'. This is of concern to all stakeholders, especially given the expected ramp up of naval shipbuilding jobs – to more than 5200 by the mid-2020s – and the important role that South Australia’s largest vocational training provider must have in meeting that demand.
The implications of the failure by the South Australian Government to adequately fund TAFE SA
The National Centre for Vocational Education Research report on the expenditures for South Australia’s government training show one of the largest declines from 2012–2016 of 17.6 per cent. Spending on training by the South Australian Government decreased from $516.2 million in 2012 and declined to $425.2 million in 2016.
Evidence presented to the Committee shows that the South Australian Government’s $91 million in funding cuts over five years has negatively impacted on students and the training industry.
Restaurant and Catering Australia believes that the stripping of financial resources from TAFE SA has, in large part, contributed to the decline in training outcomes from the courses being delivered.
The Australian Education Union states that '17 per cent of the workforce at TAFE SA has been cut' and 'this has undoubtedly affected students but the remaining staff and teachers. It represents a loss of knowledge and expertise to the system'.
The Australian Education Union also commented that the decline in student funding from the SA Government to TAFE SA from 2012–2014 was worst during this period and the damage was done to the South Australian TAFE system.
The Australian Government provides funding to states and territories to support the provision of training systems. Nonetheless, VET remains a responsibility of the state and territory governments, both in its implementation and its funding. TAFE SA is owned by the South Australian Government.
The negative impact for students and industry
Around 880 students are continuing to study and are relying on the non-compliance issues being addressed. 140 still have issues with their qualification.
As of December 2017, four Civil Aviation Safety Regulation aircraft maintenance engineers were fully cleared out of 92, while 79 had license holders had certain restrictions, six students had their full license conditions suspended.
Deficiencies in the administration of the course on offer at TAFE SA have encompassed hospitality training. Certificate II in commercial cookery is one of the 10 courses suspended by ASQA. The perception of substandard courses being delivered by TAFE SA is particularly harmful for industry.
Restaurant and Catering Australia believe the issues concerning the mismanagement of TAFE SA will exacerbate the negative perceptions by students, parents and other community stakeholders hold regarding the VET sector.
The poorly-devised 'market design' reforms have stretched budgets for public providers to such an extent that, by some estimates, more than 15 000 TAFE teachers have lost their jobs in the last five years.
South Australian Government’s failure to take responsibility
The local media in South Australia are running a series of articles highlighting 'TAFE SA in crisis'.
While sacking the CEO and Chair, the South Australian Government has failed to take responsibility for their role in cutting funding and failing to manage the oversight.
Former staff and leaders have raised the impact of the failure of the SA Government to invest fully in ensuring TAFE SA delivered quality training to ensure South Australian students were getting the skills needed for work:
Former TAFE Chief Executive Greg Black told Adelaide radio station 5AA on 3 January that '… $65 million was spent on golden handshakes and many of the best people were let go. He maintains that’s led to the collapse in the quality of courses now offered.'
Graham Odes, CEO, Service Skills SA said on Adelaide radio on 3 January 'I think really a lot of this goes back to the money that Cabinet has taken out of Skills and Employment in South Australia…over a third of the money has been taken out and that’s caused a lot of these problems.'
Others in the VET Industry claim TAFE SA courses did not meet learning standards and that proper monitoring by TAFE SA and the South Australian Government’s Department of State Development should have identified TAFE SA shortcomings and acted on them earlier.
Private providers find it frustrating that TAFE SA has failed to comply with national standards and state funding requirements.
Commonwealth funding to South Australia in terms of special purpose grants and national partnership payments for training and VET over six years has been $771 million.
The South Australian Government received a windfall from the federal government to build its workforce under National Partnership Agreements for skills reform. The outcomes are that the number of government funded training places has halved since 2013.
The rapid decline in the allocation of funding from 2012–2017 due to the inefficient management of places has undermined the capacity of the VET sector to respond to the State’s workforce needs.
The South Australian Government has failed to adequately monitor compliance with national standards required to access funding.
The Senate inquiry process
Industry associations commented that in the context of a state election campaign in South Australia they were unwilling to provide frank contributions to the inquiry.
Some recent examples identified in the media include the Property Council (SA) executive director Mr Daniel Gannon complaining publicly that a promised $250 000 grant to help lure companies to headquarter in Adelaide had been axed, as payback, he claimed, for the council’s lobbying against the dumped state bank tax. Another prominent critic of the tax, Business SA, also lost $100 000 that was earmarked for trade missions.
It was apparent from the submissions and hearings that industry bodies were reluctant to make open statements on their negative experiences with the State Government in the areas of skills and training.
Senator Lucy GichuhiSenator Sarah Hanson-Young