Thank you, Mary for your kind introduction and thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
It’s always important to come and hear about the issues affecting our public training providers.
Looking around the room I can see representatives from government, industry and the skills training sector from Australia and across the world.
This is a testament to the diversity of the VET sector, and the commitment of all those who recognise its importance.
The range of topics on your agenda reminds us of TAFE’s multifaceted networks that are integral to the quality of the services that TAFE delivers.
Of course, TAFE is first and foremost concerned with providing quality training to students, and part of that means establishing relationships with schools, universities, employers and industry.
All of this goes to better helping students move into the career they want with the skills they need.
Only through these networks can successful transitions from education to employment, or indeed further education, occur.
The question for me becomes how does government best support this work?
This Government is absolutely committed to getting this right – and we’re taking a number of steps to ensure strong links between employers, students and training providers, both domestically and internationally.
As your conference has highlighted this year, vocational education goes well beyond our own shores.
In this changing world, it is clear to us all that we need to bring a global perspective to our work.
TAFE naturally plays an important role, well positioned to contribute both to the provision of education overseas, as well as serving as a drawcard for international students to come and study in Australia.
I am very pleased to see our friends from China here with you at your conference, and I too would like to formally extend my welcome to those participating in the 2017 China-Australia VET Forum.
Our relationship with China serves as a good example of strong international partners that bring mutual benefit to our respective education agendas.
China is one of our most important international partners in many ways.
The relationship between our countries grows each year as we do more business, work, study and training together.
In 2015 there were more than 19,000 students in China who were studying an Australian VET course.
This figure represents 60 per cent of all students studying Australian VET courses overseas.
And TAFE was the training provider for over 80 per cent of those 19,000 students.
It really highlights for me the contribution Australia is making to global skills development and goes to the quality of the training TAFE delivers, and the international recognition it has received.
And of course, this comes on top of the many students from China who chose to study VET in Australia.
In 2016 we had nearly 14,000 enrolments, and as of June this year there were over 11,000.
In March this year, we formally recognised the important partnership our two countries share when we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen collaboration on VET.
This represents a big opportunity for our whole education sector.
VET is a critical component of this, and TAFE is one of the fundamental pillars of our VET system.
Of course Australia and China are firm economic partners as well, as the very important China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) attests.
Signed in December 2015, the agreement is a huge achievement for both our governments and a testament to our bilateral relationship and the great and longstanding friendship between Australia and China.
In dollar terms, China represents our largest service export market, worth $15.1 billion in 2016, and made a larger contribution to GDP than manufacturing.
And China is already Australia’s largest education services export market, worth $5.4 billion in 2015-16.
Under ChAFTA, Australian private higher education providers will benefit from improved profile with prospective Chinese students and employers, enabling them greater access to China’s higher education market.
Though the relationship is so much deeper and more complex than this – the numbers nevertheless give some idea of the scope of this partnership, and how important it is for both our nations.
But most crucially international education represents an opportunity to strengthen ties between our nations on a diplomatic and individual level.
As students move between our nations they experience different cultures, they meet different people and in so doing, person by person, building stronger links between our nations.
The Australia Awards-Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships, for example, play an important role in developing and sustaining these important links.
Since 2007 over 5,800 people have engaged with other cultures, languages and education systems around the world through the Endeavour system.
This includes an investment of $70.7 million to 540 international recipients who received an Australian VET qualification under an Endeavour Vocational Education and Training Scholarship.
As Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, I am acutely aware of the value of our international engagement and our international partnerships.
We have much to offer, and learn from other countries through our collaborations in skills and training, and in research, to advance our broader education and economic objectives as we work together for the future.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with a number of ministerial counterparts in key markets, visiting India as part of Australian Business Week in India, as well as Sri Lanka and Singapore, and earlier in the year, during visits to Indonesia and the G20 in Germany.
It was encouraging to hear how highly regarded our vocational education system is around throughout the world with mention often made of TAFE.
Regional partners are one of my key priorities – we all have strengths and assets that we bring to our relationships and Australia is willing and ready to expand our service delivery and bring our education sectors and our experts and students close together.
There is everything to be gained by closer collaboration – in combining our skills, our different perspectives and different areas of expertise to get better outcomes for Australia and for our regional partners.
I’d like now to turn to the work we are doing domestically to build the capacity of our VET sector and ensure skilled workers for the future.
Our reforms are designed to ensure quality and to bolster VET’s capacity to function as a key connector between employment and education.
Nowhere is this more evident than through an apprenticeship.
The apprenticeship model of learning allows students to receive practical, on-the-job training, which gives them a start in the workplace, while they acquire the technical knowledge to support that work and build professional expertise.
However, since 2012 we have seen a decline in the number of commencements and completions for apprenticeships and traineeships.
It is a priority of this Government to arrest the decline in Australian Apprentices – a term that has for some time has included both apprentices and trainees.
We must ensure growing and emerging industries have access to properly trained employees, with the skills they need to meet the challenges of today and the future.
In this year’s Federal Budget we committed $1.5 billion dollars over the next four years to be invested in projects that support businesses to hire apprentices and trainees through our Skilling Australians Fund.
The Commonwealth will work in collaboration with the states and territories to deliver this Fund.
The Skilling Australians Fund replaces the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform signed by the previous Government.
That Agreement provided $1.15 billion over five years for structural reform and the remaining $630 million for training.
I am focused squarely on improved outcomes.
Our objective is to create 300,000 new apprentices and trainees over the next four years.
TAFE has always been a significant contributor to vocational education and skills training and will continue to be so through the Skilling Australians Fund.
You have an important role in training apprentices and trainees with the skills they need to succeed today and into the future.
We are committed to achieving improved outcomes by ensuring the quality of training remains as high as possible.
We want students and employers to be confident that our training providers and the courses they offer measure up to the highest standards.
To ensure this we are concentrating on the underlying regulatory framework that protects and governs the sector.
We are conducting a review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act (NVETR Act), which enables the Standards for RTOs and provides ASQA with the regulatory power to enforce these standards.
The NVETR Act established ASQA as Australia’s VET regulator on 1 July 2011.
Despite having been amended twice since 2011, the NVETR Act remains largely unchanged since its introduction.
I know Professor Valerie Braithwaite, who has been conducting the review, has been seeking views from as many stakeholders as possible, including: students, parents and employers.
TAFE Directors Australia’s CEO, Craig Robertson, is on the Expert Advisory Panel to this review, and I know he recently met with Professor Braithwaite.
This gives me confidence that the views and interests of TDA’s members will be taken into consideration for the review’s final report.
Of course, we are working to ensure the quality of the sector via more than one avenue.
I hardly need go into the details of the former VET FEE-HELP Scheme – its failings and problems are well documented.
Needless to say, the unscrupulous behaviour of a number of providers shook public confidence in the sector and threatened to throw the good work of many providers into disrepute.
But we took action.
From April 2015 through to 2016, the Government introduced more than 20 measures to improve compliance, strengthen quality, and crack down on the rorts that occurred in the VET FEE-HELP scheme, and to introduce the new VET Student Loans program.
Following the initial transitional period, we are now in a new phase and already seeing encouraging results.
In the first six months of the program, over 24,000 students have gained access to quality training.
And to date, over $78 million dollars has been approved for eligible courses.
It has also been encouraging to see that unit completion rates for students receiving a loan are at over 75 per cent.
This is an increase of 10 percentage points over what we saw under the final year of VET FEE-HELP.
While these are still early days for the VSL program, this shows that our objective to only provide funding to quality providers is having a measurable effect.
Of the top ten providers ranked by value of loans paid, nine were public providers.
And in terms of student numbers, all of the top providers were public.
This highlights the important contribution TAFE is having in our sector, and how reliant students are on TAFEs as an avenue for training and a pathway to employment.
We all want a strong VET sector that delivers quality training to students, aligns with the needs of industry, and helps students link education to employment.
This is our highest priority.
By getting this right we set ourselves up for future growth.
TAFE is one of our key partners and will continue to have an important role to play.
I look forward to it, and I would like to wish you all the best with the remainder of your conference.