PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 1 DECEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Shonks and sharks in vocational education, science and research cuts, teacher training.
SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: Today the Senate has an opportunity to turn off the tap to these rogue operators, operating within the vocational education system. We have an opportunity today for the Senate to take firm action to stop the rorts and rip-offs that are occurring in the vocational education system. We have an opportunity today to put a cap on the lifetime fees and loans that people will be incurring, and to put a cap on the price that colleges can charge.
Overnight we have seen Vocation, one of the major colleges, have closed their doors, sacked 130 staff, and sent 10,000 students into limbo. We have seen other colleges that have received over $100 million worth of VET-FEE Help support that only graduate 46 students. So we have now got a record, a litany, of examples whereby these vocational education colleges have not been properly policed, have taken severe advantage of students, taxpayers, and undermined confidence in the vocational education system.
Today we have a chance to do something about that and we are looking forward to that occurring. We will be moving amendments in the Senate and calling on the Senate chamber to support us in that endeavour.
The other thing that I would like to mention to you is that overnight Malcom Turnbull has said that he wants to place research and science at the centre of his climate change policy. This is a government that has cut $3 billion from the innovation system, so it is a bit rich for him now to argue that we are going to place the agencies that he, his government, the Liberal government that is, that it cut so severely are now going to be the saviours for our climate change policies. The forthcoming innovation statement will have to address the huge budget cuts that this government has imposed upon our science agencies and we look forward to measuring this government’s rhetoric against its action in terms of putting its money where its mouth is. Any questions?
CARR: Well, in March he made a number of announcements about the operations of dodgy providers in regard to their marketing activities; those marketing activities have continued. We have seen the photographs of the boot-loads of iPads being distributed to people who are on social security benefits, who have very, very poor literacy rates, and who have no real prospects of ever concluding the courses that they have been enrolled in.
We have had other colleges who have now been asked to show notice why they should not be closed, who have enrolled people who did not know they had been enrolled. Now, all of these events are occurring under this Minister’s watch. So all their big talk has not been matched with action, and today in the Senate there is an opportunity for this government to actually front up to its responsibilities and turn off the tap to these rogue operators.
JOURNALIST: Senator, part of the problem of these rogue operators and $1 billion blowing in VET FEE help loans would be the previous Labor government’s induction of the VET FEE help scheme. Do you accept this might be part of the problem for these dodgy operators?
CARR : What we have to look at is that the changes in the vocational education system actually go back to John Howard, and that this Liberal party that we see represented in this Parliament also voted for those changes throughout that period. But irrespective of that, if something is wrong, you fix it. You cannot find scapegoats for your inaction. This is what this government is trying to do, and they should not be allowed to get away with it, they have had two years to fix this. These are matters that are occurring under this government’s watch. We are seeing this program expand by 100 percent per year. It will be up to $4 billion next year. So this minister, the third minister we have seen in this area, has got to do more than just talk about change, it actually has to see changes implemented and this rorting has got to stop.
JOURNALIST: You are expecting to see the new minister propose his package for reforms to the university sector in the coming months. Are you open to negotiation on deregulation if the funding for the university sector increases?
CARR: No, look, the whole point of this is that, cuts to education are central. Absolutely central. The 20 percent cut the university system that this government maintains has not gone away. It is central policy. Fee deregulation is a device by which you gouge students to make up for the budget cuts that this government is imposing. We are not going to negotiate on that matter because it is so fundamentally unfair and unnecessary. Labor has actually proposed an entirely new scheme – a funding guarantee to secure the money for universities and to ensure that students can rely upon the government paying its bills when it comes to providing higher education in this country.
The Minister has introduced to parliament last week a measure to take a further $1 billion out of universities. That seems to have slipped under the radar. We will oppose cuts of $1 billion to universities that this government is seeking to impose upon them in this week of parliament.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get your comments on 1 in 10 teaching students failing to pass literacy and numeracy test at university?
CARR: For many years I have been arguing we need to lift the entry requirements by universities for a teaching program. Teaching ought to be one of those occupations that is regarded as most prestigious, and of course should be properly paid, and should attract the highest range of students. Unfortunately, what we have seen in recent times is that too many universities are enrolling people with program entry scores which are far too low. As a consequence, we are seeing now nearly 50 percent of graduates are not able to secure work. We are seeing very large numbers of teaching graduates just not up to scratch, so I’m very concerned that we lift the standards, and that is part of Labor’s higher education program – to lift the standards, to improve the number of graduates who actually succeed, and to secure jobs for those people. That’s why I would like to talk to universities about making sure there is a closer link between the number of people that are enrolling, their qualifications and their opportunities to find employment.
Thank you very much.