Big business puts profit ahead of students and TAFE

8 February 2019

A proposal from big business groups for the federal government to take over responsibility for Australia’s vocational education and training sector is merely a bid by private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE students.

Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that TAFE had been under attack for over a decade from a privatisation agenda which has slashed its funding while giving taxpayer dollars to poorly-regulated private providers.

She said that a Commonwealth takeover of vocational education would see even more funding diverted to private providers and more pressure being exerted on the TAFE system.

“The privatisation of vocational education in Australia over the past decade has been an abject failure. A wholesale federal takeover of the vocation education sector, along with ACPET’s push for 100 per cent contestable funding, would only make things worse,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The Liberal-National government has cut over $3 billion from TAFE, apprenticeships and vocational education. Meanwhile governments have lavished education funding on private providers who have repeatedly left students in debt or without the qualifications they paid for.”

“TAFE campuses have closed and jobs and vocational education courses have been lost under the Morrison Government’s watch, while government funding for private for profit operators has soared. We have seen the proliferation of unscrupulous operators looking to cash in by charging exorbitant fees for poor-quality training,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This proposal by the big business lobby, along with ACPET, to hand responsibility for vocational education to the Commonwealth, is just another attempt to line the pockets of private providers with even more public money at the expense of students.”

Ms Haythorpe said that government funding cuts to TAFE had shaken confidence in the system.

  • Government expenditure on TAFE declined by 31.5% between 2007 and 2016[1]. This has seen TAFE enrolments decline from nearly 800,000 in 2015 to 680,000 in 2017.[2]
  • Meanwhile, over the same time period, private providers increased their share of publicly-funded students from just under 15% to 40%, and increased total student numbers by more than 280% [3].
  • Despite the VET FEE-HELP scandal, private providers are attracting an increasing share of the current total value of loans issued to students under the current VET Student Help scheme. In 2017 private providers accounted for $325.5 million of student loans (57.1% of the total) compared to the public allocation of $244.3 million (42.9% of the total)[4].

The AEU calls on the Federal Government to:

1. Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. No public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.

2. Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to restore confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.

3. Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.

4. Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.

5. Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.

6. Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into TAFE.

Ms Haythorpe said that both the Commonwealth and the states and territories must put the interests of students first and acknowledge the damage that the push for privatisation had inflicted on TAFE.

“A strong public TAFE has always been the backbone of vocational education in this nation,” Ms Haythorpe said. “Any attempts to further privatise the vocational education system and reduce the role of TAFE must be resisted.”

“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU.”

“Now it is time for governments to make TAFE their urgent priority. Our students and their families deserve nothing less than a fully funded, public TAFE sector,” Ms Haythorpe said.

[1] Australian Education Union, (2018), Stop TAFE Cuts Manifesto

[2] National Centre for Vocational Education Research (2018), Government Funding of VET 2017: data tables, retrieved from


[4] National Centre for Vocational Education Research (2018), Government Funding of VET 2017: data tables, retrieved from