Caitlin Jarvis: Yeah, so we were just doing a series of stories on VET and TAFE in Tassie, but just also touching on the national issues. So, we thought it was a good opportunity just to pitch your pick your brain a little bit about what’s going on.
Karen Andrews: Absolutely. Happy to help.
Caitlin Jarvis: Fabulous. So I guess where start is, what is the Federal Government’s role in this space, if you could tell me a little bit about that?
Karen Andrews: Okay, so we provide funding to each of the states and territories. So, that’s by way of a special purpose payment that we give annually to the states of around about $1.5 billion. And that’s for the states to use to support vocational education and training. So, it’s up to them, by and large, how they use that money. So, that’s an annual payment that we make to them.
We also provide additional support to, for example, the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network, which supports apprentices to- and helps employers sign up apprentices and provides ongoing support. We’ve announced the Industry Specialist Mentoring Program, which is a $60 million program that will provide specialist support to apprentices in key areas during the first two years of their apprenticeship because we know that’s when apprentices are most likely to decide not to continue.
And we also provide a range of employer incentives to take on an apprentice and that could be a commencement payment, or it could be a completion bonus, depending on what industry sector you’re in. But that can be up to $4000 per apprentice.
Caitlin Jarvis: And that’s a payment that’s going to be at the beginning to the employer?
Karen Andrews: It can be at the beginning, but it could also be at the end because we know some industry sectors actually require the support of a completion bonus to assist with keeping their apprentices on. So, if you want more in detail, I could actually send you a summary sheet with all that detail.
Caitlin Jarvis: Yep, that would be great. So, I was doing a bit of research earlier found on the Skilling Australians Fund. Could you tell me how that’s different from the National Partnership Agreement that was in place prior to this?
Karen Andrews: Certainly, and of course that is in addition to the funding that I’ve just gone through. So, it’s in addition to the Special Purpose Payment. So, there was a National Partnership Agreement in place that went from 2012 to 2017. It was $1.75 billion. Of that, $1.15 billion was to deal with structural changes and reforms within the sector. So, states managed that. And $600 million was for direct training outcomes. So that agreement expired at the end of the 2016-17 financial year. So that’s when states received their last payment. So states have had the last payment under the 2012/2017 National Partnership Agreement coming up to 12 months ago. Now that was called a National Partnership Agreement. We’re negotiating another National Partnership Agreement and the money that goes into that National Partnership Agreement is from the Skilling Australians Fund. And that’s a fund where there is a levy on foreign workers being brought into the country, and that supports the training of Australian workers.
Caitlin Jarvis: So, in the National Partnership Agreement I don’t know how much detail you can go into yet, are there any conditions that direct those funds anywhere, or is it completely up to the states?
Karen Andrews: There certainly are conditions and this is the first time that has been put in place. So what we’ve said to the states and territories is we understand that there’s a decline in the number of apprentices in training and I am speaking Australian apprentices, so it does include trainees. And we’re asking the states to tell us how they’re going to address that issue. What projects they’re going to put in place to increase the number of apprentices in training. We’ve identified some priority areas, but we’re absolutely open to the states and territories coming back to us with some other areas that we may not have identified that’s critical for each state or territory. So, we may do that, we’ll look at the project. If we agree that it’s going to boost apprenticeship numbers, we will match the funding. So, it will be a 50-50 split for the states and the territories and the Commonwealth, and then it will be up to the states and the territories to deliver against that project.
Caitlin Jarvis: And so, have we had any states sign up to that yet, have we had any agreement? I think most of the others are in negotiations, is that correct?
Karen Andrews: Yes, they are. So, a couple of things have happened. So, we announced the Skilling Australians Fund in last year’s Budget. So we have had discussions with the states since that time. We are now getting close to what would have been the first year of that agreement, and what we said to the states is we will take on board some of the concerns that they had in relation to certainty of funding. So, there is a level of certainty of funding in the new proposal, which has gone out to the states and territories now, so they will know year by year how much money will be in the fund and how much is guaranteed. And we’ve also said to them: so, for this year we will put $300 million on the table, but you need to come back to us and tell us what you have done to address the decline, and if you do that and we assess the project as ‘yes it has a benefit to the state or territory’ then we will be prepared to look at some match funding.
Caitlin Jarvis: Okay. Are there any conditions in the agreement that direct the funds to TAFE providers or other providers?
Karen Andrews: No, and that wasn’t a condition in the previous agreement either. In fact, the previous agreement, the 2012/2017 agreement actually introduced contestability to the states so that they actually had to look at- and what they were doing with private providers as well. So, that was that. That was negotiated actually under the Labor government and that’s where- so, over the five-year period of the agreement, TAFE’s market share dropped from around 60 per cent to 49 per cent.
Caitlin Jarvis: Okay. So that was under the previous one?
Karen Andrews: Yeah. So we are making no requirements as to where the money is spent. We’re more interested in how it is spent to deliver the outcome that’s needed. So, this is all about getting outcomes for the sector.
Caitlin Jarvis: And so I guess that means it can go to RTOs any RTOs the states want to get the money for, is that correct?
Karen Andrews: Yep. If that’s what they want to do, absolutely. But if they want to look at things like payroll tax, if they want to look at employer incentives, we’re open to that as well. So it’s not necessarily restricted to just going to a training provider. We’d actually like the states to be more innovative and say: okay, well this is what we can do to kickstart the apprenticeship drive.
Caitlin Jarvis: Yep. So, are there other funds, does the Federal Government provide any specific funding to TAFE?
Karen Andrews: No, nor has it previously. So it’s up to the states. So the special purpose payment could be used. If the states wanted to direct that to TAFEs they could do that. So they’re not required to, but nor are they prohibited from doing it. And by and large that money under the special purpose payment doesn’t come with any strings attached in terms of how it’s spent, so it is quite discretionary for the states.
Caitlin Jarvis: Okay. And has there been any policy direction for TAFE under the Turnbull Government federally, or is that again more of a state-based scheme?
Karen Andrews: We’ve left that to the states because the states are responsible, operationally, for vocational education and training. We fund the states and we fund directly in terms of employer incentives, but it’s actually the states that drive the vocational education and training. The difference this time with the National Partnership Agreement is that we’re saying to the states: we need some outcomes in the sector, tell us what you’re doing to lift apprenticeship numbers, and if we agree, we’ll co-fund.
Caitlin Jarvis: Yep. I understand that TAFE came up in parliament this week or last week, do you think that there needs to be more involvement of the Federal Government in the TAFE sector, or do you think it’s more of the state’s responsibility?
Karen Andrews: Well, federally we want stability in vocational education and training. Now, in the past, the states have had responsibility directly for funding TAFE and I think that that’s the responsibility that they should continue to have. Our role, in the Federal government, is to provide funds where we see there is a need to boost numbers.
Caitlin Jarvis: Yep. There was a report that was recently- the Regional Rural and Remote Report by Professor Halsey, and in that report it called for one recommendation was to overhaul of the VET system. Would the Federal Government support that recommendation?
Karen Andrews: VET has been reviewed continuously for a number of years, and my interest is giving some stability to the sector. In the last two years alone we have had a new national partnership agreement put up which fundamentally changes the relationship between the states and the Commonwealth; we’ve abolished VET FEE-HELP and introduced VET student loans; we have started implementing a strategy to increase the status of vocational education and training. So these things have already happened over the last two years. What the sector has been crying out for is some stability so there’s not constant churn. So I take on board the feedback that I get from stakeholders. I’m very mindful of that, and I will deal with it in a sensible and pragmatic way. But at this stage I am reluctant to go into a wholesale review of the VET sector.
Caitlin Jarvis: No worries. That was all that I had to ask you. Is there anything else that you would like to include?
Karen Andrews: No, I think that covers it and they were great questions from you too, so thank you.
Caitlin Jarvis: No worries. Thank you. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me, I appreciate it.
Karen Andrews: No worries. Take care. Okay.
Caitlin Jarvis: Thanks, bye.
Karen Andrews: Bye.