Submission to Senate Inquiry into Technical and Further Education (TAFE) in Australia

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1 Submission to Senate Inquiry into Technical and Further Education (TAFE) in Australia Prepared by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) March 2014 Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) Unit 1, No. 4 Phipps Close Deakin ACT 2600 (02)

2 Contents About FECCA... 3 Summary of Recommendations... 4 Introduction... 5 False Economies The Competitive Training Market Funding Model... 7 Ensuring Access and Equity TAFE Multicultural Education Coordinators and Multicultural Access and Outreach Centres... 9 TAFE and access to the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) Conclusion

3 About FECCA The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) is the national peak body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. FECCA provides advocacy, develops policy and promotes issues on behalf of its constituency to government and the broader community. FECCA supports multiculturalism, community harmony, social justice and the rejection of all forms of discrimination and racism, so as to build a productive and culturally rich Australian society. FECCA s policies are designed around the concepts of empowerment and inclusion, and are formulated with the common good of all Australians in mind. 3

4 Summary of Recommendations FECCA forwards the following recommendations for consideration through the Inquiry: that the Inquiry and its related investigation go beyond TAFE to examine the VET sector more broadly, and the extent to which it is effective in enabling students from all backgrounds to gain qualifications for all types of employment and specific skills to assist them in the workplace. that there is a need for strict adherence to principles of access and equity through the quality delivery of education and training, preferably facilitated by TAFE institutes that receive adequate government support and funding. that education is offered through government supported institutions to best enable the provision of affordable and high-quality education, as well as transparency to ensure adherence to equity and diverse principles. that there is a need for revision of the recent fee increases for TAFE students. Pricing the delivery of TAFE out of certain fields of study is neither an efficient nor effective strategy to equip individuals with the necessary education and training to contribute back to society and the economy in a positive way. Government support is imperative to ensure that TAFE education and training remains accessible and affordable. that the Multicultural Education Coordinator model and Multicultural Access Centres should be replicated Australia-wide as a means through which to facilitate greater CALD participation in TAFE and VET programs. FECCA believes that these mechanisms are integral to providing specialist English and cross-cultural support to ensure high levels of CALD student satisfaction and course completion. that the Commonwealth Government increase funding for AMEP (and its support for TAFE facilities to effective provide AMEP training) to allow for increased hours and re-structuring of classes in line with English language and cultural needs of students. This will respond to issues of illiteracy and other specific issues faced by refugees and newly arrived immigrants, and enable TAFE to more effectively deliver AMEP training. 4

5 Introduction FECCA is committed to the view that Technical and Further Education (TAFE) is an effective mechanism through which to assist disadvantaged Australians to actively participate in the community, through facilitating access to vocational education and training pathways that allow for increased employment and welfare potential. FECCA recognises employment as a cornerstone issue for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Australia on the basis that employment is an enabler not only of financial stability, but also social cohesion, self-esteem, independence, the ability to gain stable housing, opportunities to build and maintain English language skills, greater systems knowledge and overall, a greater sense of community belonging and personal wellbeing. The subsequent connection between TAFE s role in facilitating pathways to sustainable employment and an individual s ability to achieve the aforementioned opportunities is thus of fundamental importance to FECCA, as per its relevant to FECCA s constituency CALD Australians. FECCA believes that TAFE forms an integral part of the cultural, social and economic fabric of our society and is crucial to the development of skills in our economy and in our local communities. Based on ongoing consultations with people from CALD communities around Australia, FECCA is aware that TAFE is often the first point of call for many immigrants, and particularly those who have recently arrived in Australia and are from new and emerging community (NEC) groups that are seeking access to fundamental skills and training opportunities as an immediate stage of their settlement journey 1. FECCA s support of TAFE and the services that it offers is based upon the belief that post-compulsory vocational education provides opportunities for people from CALD backgrounds to increase their engagement with future education, employment and the wider community. Given that TAFE and the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, more broadly, disproportionately attract more disadvantages learners than any other sector 2, it is of vital importance that the services provided by TAFE are not compromised or revised in such a way that they adversely impact upon those who benefit most from them and access them on the basis of greatest need. 1 Marrickville Multicultural Interagency Submission to the Inquiry into the role of Technical and Further Education System and its Operations, 2013, page 3. 2 Skills for All Australians, 2011, Skills for Labour Market Participation Better Support for Disadvantaged Australians. Available at: 5

6 Recognising the issues outlined above, there a subsequently three core premises that underpin the structure and content of the submission that follows: 1. TAFE provides a vital service for people from CALD backgrounds, providing affordable and accessible training to enable self-improvement and increased life, settlement and employment prospects. 2. FECCA acknowledges that governments have invested a large amount in TAFE over the years, but is concerned that the positive effects of this investment may be reversed through the implementation of short-sighted reforms based upon economic and cost-saving arguments that will have limited long-term benefit. 3. It is FECCA s hope that this Inquiry will address many of the challenges facing TAFE through highlighting the importance of its core services and the need for it to be adequately supported by all governments. This is in contrast to the current trend that appears to be emerging, of government outsourcing the delivery of VET and encouraging privatisation, which is having the associated effect of creating an artificial competitive training market. FECCA recommends: that the Inquiry and its related investigation go beyond TAFE to examine the VET sector more broadly, and the extent to which it is effective in enabling students from all backgrounds to gain qualifications for all types of employment and specific skills to assist them in the workplace. 6

7 False Economies The Competitive Training Market Funding Model FECCA is concerned by recent reports that government funding for TAFE across Australia has been cut by 19 per cent over the past ten years 3. In this context, FECCA highlights the need for caution to be exercised with regard to the assumption that the private sector is always more efficient that the public sector concerning the delivery of core services. As previously noted, FECCA acknowledges the significant resources and investment that governments have channelled into TAFE and the VET sector to date to ensure the provision of quality skills and education. FECCA is concerned that redirecting government funding away from TAFE, and subsequently supporting a privatised model of VET delivery, will have a significant adverse impact upon the quality of education provided at TAFE level. From a CALD perspective, FECCA is specifically concerned that governments commitment to the principles of access and equity in the provision and assessment of quality education may not be adhered to, should education and training be outsourced to the private sector. In this context, FECCA specifically highlights recent examples of cases throughout Australia where the quality and content of training offered by private institutions has been called into question by private colleges offering training and education opportunities that have few checks and balances in place to assure quality 4. FECCA is particularly cautious that private institutions may lack the capacity or competency to provide specialist literacy support and adequate structures to assist people with disabilities or limited English language skills, thus limiting the potential of CALD people to fully benefit from the services provided. FECCA is aware of examples that have emerged, for instance, of private institutions screening applicants for suitability for TAFE courses without referring unsuccessful applicants to appropriate education options such as TAFE literacy and Numeracy programs (foundation studies) to ensure they are given the fullest potential and opportunity to receive training and education 5. 3 Australian Education Union, 2013, What do Cuts to TAFE Mean? Available at: 4 TAFE Directors Australia, 2013, Quality in a New Open Market National Entitlement System of Vocational Education and Training: How can this be Achieved? Available at: 5 TAFE Community Alliance Submission to TAFE Inquiry 2013, page 7. 7

8 FECCA recommends: that there is a need for strict adherence to principles of access and equity through the quality delivery of education and training, preferably facilitated by TAFE institutes that receive adequate government support and funding. that education is offered through government supported institutions to best enable the provision of affordable and high-quality education, as well as transparency to ensure adherence to equity and diverse principles. In addition, FECCA is concerned with governments recent decision to increase student fees for TAFE. FECCA is aware that some TAFE courses now cost students more than university courses, often at costs well in excess of $10,000 6, thereby positioning TAFE out of the reach of many people in CALD communities. Moreover, whilst acknowledging that Commonwealth support may be available to students through the VET Fee-Help student loan scheme, FECCA cites its concern that many recently arrived immigrants are not eligible for higher education loans. For those from CALD backgrounds that are eligible, there is the potential for prospective students to be dissuaded from perusing training and education on the basis of not wishing to accrue debt, as well as the potential for some to accumulate a substantial debt in the event that sufficient information is not provided on the implications for loan repayments and other important details. FECCA fundamentally believes that education should remain affordable and accessible to ensure that individuals have the best opportunity to access vital skills and training that will ultimately facilitate their advancement. FECCA recommends: that there is a need for revision of the recent fee increases for TAFE students. Pricing the delivery of TAFE out of certain fields of study is neither an efficient nor effective strategy to equip individuals with the necessary education and training to contribute back to society and the economy in a positive way. Government support is imperative to ensure that TAFE education and training remains accessible and affordable. 6 Australian Education Union, 2013, What do Cuts to TAFE Mean?. Available at: 8

9 Ensuring Access and Equity TAFE Multicultural Education Coordinators and Multicultural Access and Outreach Centres As indicated by the table below, TAFE caters to an enormously diverse group of students, including those from CALD backgrounds, all of whom should have adequate access to the full spectrum of services that TAFE offers. Comparisons between the Proportion of Disadvantages Students in VET and Higher Education 7 VET Sector (%) High Education Sector (%) Indigenous Non-English Speakers People with Disability Low Socio-Economic Background On the basis of this diversity, and in particular reference to the large proportion of TAFE students from non-english Speaking Backgrounds (NESB), FECCA recommends the need for continued support of the role of Multicultural Education Coordinators, who can assist people from CALD backgrounds with services ranging from interpretation, advice on courses designed to improve English language skills, advice on recognition of overseas skills and qualifications, advice on eligibility to TAFE courses, tutorial support for English, maths, science and other vocational subjects and courses, as well as examination advice. FECCA is deeply concerned by reports of Multicultural Education Officer positions being removed throughout states in which they currently operate, given the vital role that they play in assisting large numbers of people from CALD backgrounds through the delivery of tailored and customised multicultural education courses, special purpose English support, and cross cultural and employability skills-development 8. 7 TAFE Community Alliance Submission to TAFE Inquiry 2013, page 3. 8 Marrickville Multicultural Interagency Submission to the Inquiry into the role of Technical and Further Education System and its Operations, 2013, page 1. 9

10 The Multicultural Access Centre (MAC) model is also effective in the provision of student information and resources on English language, adult literacy and numeracy, dealing with racism, cultural diversity and cross-cultural communication, multicultural education, workplace training and migrant studies, and FECCA strongly advocates the need for the continued (and increased) support for such facilities. FECCA recommends: that the Multicultural Education Coordinator model and Multicultural Access Centres should be replicated Australia-wide as a means through which to facilitate greater CALD participation in TAFE and VET programs. FECCA believes that these mechanisms are integral to providing specialist English and cross-cultural support to ensure high levels of CALD student satisfaction and course completion. TAFE and access to the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) FECCA wishes to acknowledge the importance of the services offered by TAFE institutes throughout Australia through provision of the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) that is geared towards facilitating successful settlement for immigrants and refugees across Australia. English language proficiency is fundamentally linked to good settlement outcomes. Conversely, a lack of English language proficiency inhibits the opportunity for new immigrants and refugees to fully participate in Australian society. Improvements to the delivery of AMEP may serve to reduce the social exclusion experienced by new immigrants and refugees as a result of limited English language proficiency. Ensuring our English language settlement programs are operating as effectively as possible will provide long term economic benefits and savings to government by helping to facilitate the effective settlement of immigrants and enable them to participate productively in our economy and the broader community. FECCA has consistently received feedback from its constituency and stakeholders that the AMEP program lacks sufficient flexibility and funding to cater to the diverse needs of learners accessing the program. Immigrants and refugees come to Australia with vast differences in their pre-migration experiences as well as levels of literacy, numeracy, education and English language proficiency. The current structure of the AMEP needs to be further tailored to give immigrants and refugees the best possible opportunity to 10

11 become proficient in English to subsequently allow for increased employment opportunities and effective settlement. FECCA recommends: that the Commonwealth Government increase funding for AMEP (and its support for TAFE facilities to effective provide AMEP training) to allow for increased hours and re-structuring of classes in line with English language and cultural needs of students. This will respond to issues of illiteracy and other specific issues faced by refugees and newly arrived immigrants, and enable TAFE to more effectively deliver AMEP training. Conclusion FECCA strongly encourages governments to continue support for TAFE, given the role that it plays in providing a unique and important service to all Australians through the provision of quality education and training. FECCA highlights that through government-supported TAFE institutions, those accessing training and education services, including Australians from CALD backgrounds, can be assured of reliability, availability and quality in the provision of services that they are accessing. FECCA is grateful for the opportunity to contribute its submission and associated recommendations to the Inquiry. 11

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