Unions have today welcomed the announcement of increased funding for the Victorian vocational education and training system, but have voiced strong opposition to the increased fees and the introduction of HECS-style loans for students in the TAFE sector.

The increased overall funding for the system will provide greater access to training for school leavers to begin making inroads to reduce Australia’s skills deficit, said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

But she warned that the increase in TAFE places must be backed by high-quality training that meets the needs of both industry and individuals.

The increased funding for industry training advisory boards – made up of union and employer representatives – will go some way to helping to provide strategic advice on the future skill needs of industry and help generate demand for training places.

However, increasing fees and income contingent loans for students will be counter-productive and more likely to dampen demand than improve access to training.

Ms Burrow said the TAFE sector had been under-resourced for too long, and the investment in infrastructure is positive. However,, more needs to be done to address pay rates for TAFE teachers so we can attract and retain qualified and experienced people in this vital role.

The introduction of increased competition between TAFE and private providers makes little sense, Ms Burrow said. There is little evidence that competition will improve skills outcomes in Victoria.

“We’ve had full competition between public and private providers in the trades area for years now – and this still remains an area of critical skills shortage.

“What we need is confidence in the quality of training delivered and integrity of the training system.

“If competition just drives a lowest common denominator mentality – that is delivering training at the lowest price – at the expense of quality outcomes then it will be a failure. Competition must mean that providers are held to the highest standards.”

Ms Burrow also restated the ACTU’s opposition to increased fees and HECS-style loans for higher level qualifications, which is likely to drive students away from TAFE courses.

“The Federal Government’s productivity strategy places an emphasis on higher level qualifications but the Victorian government is making access to these courses harder by introducing higher fees.

“The HECS-style loans will be a disincentive for students seeking to participate in the workforce,” Ms Burrow said.