Tuesday 24 June 2008

Estimates Committee B (Bartlett)

2.1 Skills development TAFE Tasmania -

CHAIR - Order!  We have three new faces at the table.

Mr BARTLETT - We have Mark Sayer from Skills Tasmania, and Malcolm White and Tony Luttrell from TAFE Tasmania.

Mr KERRY FINCH - I am just having a look at the actual projected improvement in the number of 15- to 19-year-olds who are not at school or tertiary education and are not employed as shown in table 3.6 on page 3.16.  There is a jump from 6.7 per cent last year to 8.2 per cent as the target this year.  It is only a very small increase but I am just curious as to why there would be a little blip in the projections.

Mr BARTLETT - Is that a projected number or actual?

Mr KERRY FINCH - No, it is a target for 2007-08.  The 2006-07 actual was 6.7 per cent and the target is 8.2 per cent.  They are down from 9.5 per cent in 2005-06.

Mr BARTLETT - I suspect that the target was set some time ago and effectively what we have done is met the target before we arrived there.  The target was set probably as a range of forward estimates over four years.  Given that we are at 6.7 now, maybe we need to get a more aggressive target.

Mr KERRY FINCH - So the 9.5 might have been down to 8.6 or 8.9.

Mr BARTLETT - Those are TasmaniaTogether targets.

Mr KERRY FINCH - I just wanted to have some sort of understanding.

Mr BARTLETT - That is what informs those numbers, they are coming directly out of TasmaniaTogether benchmarks.

Mr KERRY FINCH - As far as vocational education and training is concerned - table 3.5 on page 3.14 - there is a dropout rate there.  For example, we are told that some students disappear from year 11 VET courses at colleges during the year and do not come back.  Is this a big problem?  Do you have any idea of the numbers?

Mr BARTLETT - Yes, I believe so.  I will ask Malcolm White from TAFE to talk about the view of dropouts in the TAFE area, but of course VET courses also run at the moment in our senior secondary colleges up to certificate level II.  And I can tell you my understanding of the numbers there.  It is a significant problem.  It is driven by lack of supported accommodation and lack of good transport.  The numbers that I have had put in front of me are that 4 500 students statewide were enrolled in VET courses within our senior secondary colleges during 2005 and 2006 and of those 4 500 only 500 actually left with a qualification.  So 4 000 either marked time, left early or did not leave with a qualification.  That is a lot - too many.  Hence the reforms we are doing in post-compulsory education.

Mr KERRY FINCH - And in the TAFE circumstance?

Mr WHITE - There are two aspects.  One is young people in apprenticeships and traineeships.  It is a tragedy that they drop out.  Nevertheless, Tasmania has one of the best attrition rates in Australia for apprenticeships.  More young Tasmanians stay and complete their apprenticeships than in most other States in Australia.  The other aspect concerns students who are engaging with us as students, full time and part time but not in apprenticeships or traineeships, we have a high success rate of students who are at risk of dropping out of learning.  We connect them to their passion which might be auto or whatever but we have a good success rate there.  However, too many young people do disengage.  An issue in TAFE at the moment is that we do not have the high levels of pastoral care to follow up each and every one to ensure they reach a meaningful qualification.  One of the aims of Tasmania Tomorrow and particularly the polytechnic is to ensure that every young person reaches that meaningful qualification which will assure them of a robust and resilient career.

Mr WING - Because the VET courses are about training the students for apprenticeships -

Mr KERRY FINCH - For vocations, yes.

Mr WING - For vocations.  From what I am hearing, we are successful in that respect but not as successful -

Mr WHITE - Certainly in apprenticeships - I think this is partly due to the nature of Tasmania that often young people know their employers and feel a great loyalty to their employers and also there is not the temptation of the resource boom sector to leave an apprenticeship and go and work as a labourer for instance.  So we do have good completion rates in apprenticeships here compared with other States.  That is due to some factors in Tasmania.

Mr WING - Skills development at TAFE is the primary focus for improving Tasmania's skills position, and there is evidence that TAFE is working fairly well in that respect.  But just in our northern area there is a bit of confusion about the status of the federal Technical College that is there and the similarity that I can perceive in the work they are trying to achieve and the students that they are looking to cater for.  I want to get the latest circumstance with that, with the development being done at Inveresk. Is a marriage likely to occur? If there is to be a melding of the two organisations, is that on the radar?

Mr BARTLETT - These are federally funded, but I know that Skills Tasmania has been working with the Australian Technical College on its future.  I will ask Mark Sayer to give us an update.

Mr SAYER - You are quite right.  There is a very close resemblance between what the Australian Technical College does and what the polytechnic will do.  The Federal Government has committed to fund the Australian Technical College until the end of 2009 and then it is up to that college to decide its own fate.  We have been speaking with Nigel Hill from the Australian Technical College and board members to talk about what their future looks like.  It looks like it would be well placed in a polytechnic situation.  So it will be handed back to the States unless the Australian Technical College can come up with a way of turning it into a business, and that is a decision it would have to make.  But it would not be able to be reliant just on our public funds.

Mr KERRY FINCH - So they would make that decision in isolation from the State Government?

Mr BARTLETT - Not in isolation, no.  I think what Mark is saying is that the board could choose to go it alone.  But essentially the Australian Government has made a funding decision that is different from the previous Australian Government.  We cannot necessarily control that.  What we can do is work with them to ensure that they are part of our system as part of the Tasmania polytechnic - a campus thereof or what have you - or they can choose effectively to go it alone and be self-funding and compete for State funds with other registered training organisations.  That is what they have to do effectively.

Mr KERRY FINCH - Is there reluctance at this stage with the organisation or are they malleable?

Mr BARTLETT - You would have to ask them that.  I do not know what is in their minds as such, apart from what Mark has just told you that they are weighing up their options.

Mr KERRY FINCH - But the State Government would want them to develop and fulfil a role perhaps in the development of our young people and developing their futures?

Mr BARTLETT - I have never been critical of the Australian Technical College because I think the model is good.  But the outcomes per dollar funded under the previous Federal Government are not good enough; that is, they had an enormous amount of cash for a fairly small throughput of students.  When you talk about the ATC, I think it was dealing at its peak with 300 students - or maybe 150?  We are talking in our polytechnic of 35 000 students that we need to deal with and need to work with.

The ATC has created an enormous bubble of activity around it for what is really a very small RTO in the grand scheme of things but an extremely well-funded RTO by the former Federal Government.  The current Federal Government has decided not to continue that level of funding, so the ATC have to make some choices.  The future is in their own hands, is what I am saying.  They have to make some choices about how they work.  Either they work with the sort of levels of funding that we are capable of delivering and therefore within our model; or they compete, which other RTOs already do, for Tasmanian State Government funding that goes out to the market to provide certain skills.  They would gain their fair share of that, no doubt, and compete for other funding sources elsewhere on the market.
 Mr DEAN - Just on the building at Inveresk that we are talking about, I was wondering if it has been discussed with local government. One of the conditions of building that was on the condition that it would operate as a normal work site.  In other words, it would be operating right through the year, except for a one- or two-week period at Christmas-time and so on.  Polytechnics, as I understand it, will simply operate school periods, with the breaks that will occur.  So I guess there has been no discussion there at all.

Mr BARTLETT - No, that is wrong.  The Australian Technical College that you speak of is Australian Government money and Australian government-funded - I have no policy control over what the Australian Technical College does.  But I can tell you that the Tasmanian Polytechnic - there is only one polytechnic with several campuses, not polytechnics - will be operating in a similar mode delivering far more than just the school term-type operations.

Mr DEAN - So it will not operate the school term only?


Mr KERRY FINCH - Just with the figure of $67.349 million for the coming financial year for TAFE, do you break that down into a student situation?  Do you look at that in a ratio of the student numbers?  Do you put a figure on what each student will cost to access TAFE?

Mr WHITE - There are two aspects to that.  First of all, it is broken down as a spend against skill and priority areas.  Skills Tasmania has a strong role in assessing industry, government and economic needs to set what we call the profile of training.  It is broken down not by student but by unit cost.  A unit cost is a measure that is used nationally to assess the cost of vocational education and training, and it is the cost to train one student per hour of training.  In 2006, which is the last figure we have, our unit cost was $15.85, which compares with the national average of $14.24 and compares favourably with other small States in Australia.

Mr KERRY FINCH - That is per classroom contact hour?

Mr WHITE - Per student - well we do not use the classroom concept so much any more, but it is the measure we use for training because, as you would be aware, we also train and assess at work sites and in venues other than classrooms.  But it is the measure we use.

Mr KERRY FINCH - Per hour?

Mr WHITE - Per student contact hour, and it is increasingly moving towards competencies, which has a better future.

Mr KERRY FINCH - What about the charge recovery from the students?  Does it vary across the different disciplines that they study for?

[8.15 p.m.] 
Mr WHITE - It does not vary across the disciplines, except to say that there are some priority disciplines which qualify for a student fee discount, such as apprentice training for 16- to 19-year-olds.  But broadly speaking, TAFE Tasmania students pay a contribution towards the cost of their training, which is set at a fee cap of $990 per annum.  So no matter what course or courses they are undertaking, they shall pay no more than that as their contribution.  But broadly speaking there is a cost per competency that they study:  A typical apprentice might be paying in the region of $400 to $600 per annum; a full-time student studying a diploma or advanced diploma will pay no more than $990; and a person coming along to get some skills in a particular area may only pay $100.  There are a range of fee concessions but the principal one is for those who qualify for concessions and health care cards, youth allowance, Abstudy, Austudy, veterans' affairs, pensioners - they will pay no more than $250 per annum and there is a 50 per cent reduction on fees.

Mr KERRY FINCH - Do you get many students who need assistance with the fees that you might charge?

Mr WHITE - The last time we looked at this it was a shade under 50 per cent of our students who qualify for some form of concession.

Mr KERRY FINCH - So it is not exorbitant if some are only paying $250.

Mr WHITE - It represents excellent value.

Mr KERRY FINCH - There has been a concern among some part-time or temporary TAFE teachers over their pay and job security.  Can there be any assurances from the budget Estimates that there are no changes that will make them worse off?

Mr WHITE - I believe, Mr Finch, that you are referring to our sessional teachers who do hourly sessions of three hours per week.  Are they the people that you are referring to?


Mr WHITE - Sessional teachers have been a vital part of TAFE for decades.  They fulfil a number of functions, including bringing very current industry knowledge to complement the permanent work force.  Sessional teachers are paid a significant loading above the normal hourly rate to compensate them for the preparation, leave and all those sorts of things.  In the current industrial relations negotiations for the next industrial agreement for TAFE teachers we are working closely with the Australian Education Union about sessional wages.  I believe our 800 sessional teachers to the best of my knowledge are satisfied with the money they receive.  I have certainly not received any complaints.

Mr KERRY FINCH - So would the sessional teachers fit into the category of temporary TAFE teachers or part-time TAFE teachers?

Mr WHITE - No, there are three categories of employment in TAFE Tasmania for teachers.  One is permanent, and that is our preferred and normal method of employment.  There is fixed term employment such as to cover the case of where a teacher may go on maternity leave for a period of time, and we cover that load.  The other is a sessional teacher, a distinct category of teaching which is timetabled hourly paid teachers.

Mr KERRY FINCH - Are there some industrial relations negotiations current at the moment?

Mr WHITE - The TAFE Tasmania teachers industrial agreement is currently being negotiated for three years.  It expired last year.  The negotiations are continuing at the moment.