Yet another new head for troubled Vocational Education and Training sector
Jul 19, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
The chaotic vocational education sector has lost its third leader in ten months and been downgraded from full ministerial representation in the latest Government cabinet reshuffle.
South Australian Senator Scott Ryan lasted just five months in the role of Minister for Vocational Education and Skills - replaced this week by the lowlier-titled Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews.
Since Simon Birmingham’s promotion from the portfolio in September, a sector mired in scandal over its failed VET FEE_HELP loans scheme has seen Luke Hartsuyker and now Scott Ryan ejected in quick succession from its leadership.
The Government released a discussion paper in April proposing a radical shake-up of the VET system following the alleged rorting of millions in taxpayer dollars by private trainers recruiting students unlikely to ever complete courses or pay back Government-funded loans.
The sector is expected to spiral to $3 billion in public debt this year.
Opposition vocational education spokeswoman Sharon Bird said: “At a time when the sector is in crisis we have seen a revolving door of ministers, and now the portfolio has been downgraded to an assistant minister.
“This is further proof that the Prime Minister’s ‘jobs and growth’ slogan is all talk, no action.
“It shows he has no interest in preparing Australians for the jobs of the future.”
Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks slammed the decision to reassign the portfolio to an assistant minister, claiming it revealed a lack of understanding about the “critical importance” of trade skills to Australia’s economy.
“The decision to axe the vocational education and skills ministry at a time when the sector is in crisis - with plummeting apprentice numbers and revelations that some private training operators have siphoned millions from taxpayers - simply beggars belief,” he said.
“It is an alarming sign that a central driver of the Australian economy is in for further neglect under the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull.
“Frantically repeating mantras about jobs and innovation simply won’t cut it when it comes to providing the political leadership that is desperately needed to ensure our nation’s future skills needs are met.”
Simon Birmingham’s office pointed out that the senator had been responsible for the VET portfolio both as a junior minister from 2014 until September, and ultimately as minister for education and training since then.
The senator said: “I look forward to playing a leading role in finalising the redesign of Labor’s failed VET FEE-HELP scheme, seeking where possible to ensure consistency of approach across the tertiary education sector.
“I welcome the appointment of Karen Andrews as my Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills who will bring strong focus to apprenticeships and other aspects of vocational education.”
Australian apprenticeship numbers have fallen by around 150,000 since 2013 according to Allen Hicks.
“Our union desperately hopes Assistant Minister Andrews can reverse some of this damage, but the downgrading of the portfolio doesn’t fill us with a great deal of confidence,” he said.
“This is hardly the leadership needed to deliver the skills required to be an innovative, agile nation.”
Mr Hicks urged newly-elected Senators to prioritise an inquiry into the sector, saying: “When skills and training are neglected, the whole of Australia suffers”.