COVID-19 sees VET numbers plummet as ECEC battles workforce crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the number of vocational education and training (VET) students plummet, with data from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) showing that the total number of students fell by 6.4 per cent on 2019 numbers to 3,939,385 in 2020.
In discussing the results the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), which represents independent providers in the higher education, vocational education, training and skills sectors, is “strongly of the view that the fall could have been arrested if state and territory governments had been more innovative with their skills funding models”.
“Throughout COVID-19, we have had millions of Australians essentially locked in their homes unable to attend training colleges or work placements required as part of their training. It is very disappointing that, in this environment, state and territory governments failed to allow funded skills training to be undertaken fully or partially online,” Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive said.
The data highlighted that it was independent vocational education and training providers that experienced the largest fall in numbers, confirming the Council’s position that the independent skills sector has been doing it tough.
Numbers of VET students fell in all states and territories bar Queensland, where there was an increase of 0.2 per cent in total student numbers:
- Victoria’s numbers fell 13.5 per cent;
- the ACT experienced the second biggest drop, down 12.0 per cent;
- Northern Territory down 8 per cent;
- NSW down 7.6 per cent;
- South Australia down 5.5 per cent;
- Western Australia down 4.8 per cent; and,
- Tasmania 3.9 per cent.
“The fall of 6.2 per cent in the number of students in part time training is of concern but what should worry government and business is the 7.6 per cent fall in students undertaking full-time training,” Mr Williams said.
Allied to the decline in domestic enrolments is the decline in international vocational education and training students, adding more pressure to the ITECA membership.
“Just when Australia needs a robust skills sector to support the economic recovery, the nation’s independent skills sector is hit with declining domestic and international student enrolments. We need government at all levels to recognise this and put in place the architecture to ensure the sustainability of the skills sector,” Mr Williams said.
His comments are especially timely for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector which is facing ongoing workforce challenges.
ITECA has set out four immediate steps that it has recommended to the National Cabinet – Skills Committee. These include:
- Extension of the waiver for fees and charges levied by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA);
- Extension of the waiver for fees and charges associated with an entry on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS);
- A reintroduction of the waiver of the 20 per cent loan tax on VET Student Loans; and,
- A change to state / territory government skills funding models that will allow students to study from home.
“Australia’s economic recovery depends on a strong independent vocational education and training sector, so we need the government to step-up and support the sector,” Mr Williams said.
To learn more about the advocacy work of ITECA please see here.