Mr MATT KEAN (Hornsby-Parliamentary Secretary) [10.59 a.m.]: Smart and Skilled will enable more students to access training. I point out to the member that 46,000 more students will be able to access training than would have been the case had the current fee structure been retained. It will also increase the range of choices available to students. Government members believe in choice. What is wrong with giving people more choice and empowering them to choose a product that best meets their educational needs?
Smart and Skilled will apply one set of fees across approved public and private training organisations, and it will ensure that quality is at the heart of the system. Fixed prices will mean that providers compete on quality, not price.
The Government wants competition based on quality; it wants students to be able to choose the product that best meets their training needs, and that is a good thing. I do not understand why the member for Balmain does not want that. This Government wants students to get value for money, with subsidies and fees reflecting efficiently costed training. It wants students to know what they will pay up-front by charging a fee based on the qualification rather than the year they attend. The Government wants disadvantaged students to know that they will get support. That is why it is providing loadings to support higher-cost learners and community service organisations through TAFE NSW and Educational Credential Evaluators. It will make pricing more simple for providers by collapsing the three pricing models into one.
This bill makes clear The Greens' position on vocational training and education: The Greens want a TAFE and training system that is inflexible and stuck in the past. They have demonstrated that they do not want our training system to continue to evolve to meet industry and community needs. The Greens do not want the Government to focus on training that leads to real job outcomes for students and they are willing to put at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of Commonwealth funding. The member for Balmain is suggesting that we give up an extra $400 million of Commonwealth funding over the next three years. I do not know where he will find that funding or what he is planning. We have heard a lot of numbers.
By opposing these reforms, the member for Balmain is putting at risk $400 million of Commonwealth funding over the next three years, but he has not come up with a plan to replace it. Where will he get that funding? The answer is, "nowhere". The New South Wales Government opposes the bill introduced by the member for Balmain because if it were passed it would reverse the growth of skills that supports the ongoing strength of this State's economy. The vital reforms to our training markets in Smart and Skilled that this bill opposes are essential for improving training, participation rates and outcomes. This package has been carefully designed to support the Government's goal of making New South Wales the number one State in this country, and increasing employment and productivity.
I do not understand why the member for Balmain opposes increasing employment and productivity. He gave us an insight into his thinking when he revealed that he wants more people to spend more time studying for degrees that will not lead to employment. These reforms have been clearly and comprehensively explained to industry and the community and are well advanced and widely anticipated. Critically, they will be reviewed progressively when they are introduced on 1 January 2015. The Government strongly opposes this bill because if it were passed it would take TAFE backwards, whereas Smart and Skilled will move it forward. The Government supports TAFE moving ahead and continuing to evolve as a modern organisation that has a clear focus on industry, students and the community, and which is flexible, responsive and competitive.
It is important to understand that Smart and Skilled has been developed in close consultation with industry. The NSW Skills Board, established by the Government last year, is independently guiding these reforms with expert advice. The board's membership comprises leading business, education and financial experts. It is chaired by Mr Phillip Clark, AM, who has extensive knowledge and experience in business and education policy, including chairing the Commonwealth Government's Higher Education Endowment Fund Advisory Board and the International Education and Research Taskforce. The board is responsible for advising the Government on how best to meet individual skills and training needs as well as the broader demands of industry, our regions and the State economy. Importantly, the board has responsibility to ensure that TAFE NSW remains the public provider of training in this State.
If it passes, this bill will reverse a fundamental part of the Smart and Skilled training reform package. Smart and Skilled does not undermine our training system. Rather, it provides new flexibility within the system, and creates incentives for more private investment and service provision. Specifically, it changes the way we allocate public funding. From 1 January 2015, eligible students will be provided with an entitlement for approved training that can be redeemed from a broader range of approved training providers and programs that will lead to employment. We should all be committed to programs that lead to more jobs and opportunities for the citizens of this State.
Strict controls will be imposed to ensure that public funding is not wasted on low-quality training or on training that does not lead to jobs. The member for Balmain said that he is concerned about a reduction in quality as a result of the implementation of Smart and Skilled. That will be addressed by the safeguards that the Government is putting place. By providing checks and balances we will ensure that we get the quality we want. We all want a system that ensures providers compete on the quality of the education they provide. Students will go to where the product being delivered best meets their needs and provides them with the skills to secure jobs and ongoing employment.
Last year the TAFE NSW board undertook statewide consultation about TAFE NSW. It implemented Let's Talk About TAFE to find out what people thought about TAFE and what they expected of it. The member for Balmain said that the majority of the community does not support Smart and Skilled and that it does not meet community expectations. Newspoll is better placed to determine what the community wants than the member for Balmain and the Teachers Federation. Its survey revealed that 97 per cent of respondents recognised TAFE and 94 per cent said that it makes a valuable contribution to training people for business and industry. I agree. Having been to TAFE, I understand firsthand the outstanding work it does and the quality product it delivers. We should be encouraging competition based on excellence, quality and product delivered. I would go back to TAFE in a heartbeat because the product I received was outstanding.
The survey found that TAFE needs to change, and to stay relevant and responsive in an ever-changing world. The international market for education and training in New South Wales is part of that. That is exactly what the Smart and Skilled reforms underpin—the changing needs of individuals and the economy, and the need for our public provider to keep pace. The Government is giving TAFEs more autonomy to manage their finances, assets and workforces, and to respond to business opportunities so that they can strengthen their commercial capabilities and be less dependent on government funding.
We are giving TAFEs more autonomy because we think those who are running TAFEs are close enough to the action to make decisions in the best interests of their market, whereas the member for Cessnock thinks that a centralised bureaucracy sitting in an ivory tower is best placed to tell TAFE students what they should want and need. That is what we are opposed to. These reforms will allow every institute to be more nimble and meet the challenges of the changing economy and contemporary workplaces by tailoring their training delivery to meet the needs of students, industry and the community—that is a good thing. TAFE should be responsive to the needs of the community and industry. This flexibility has been embraced by students, with around 42 per cent of TAFE training now being delivered outside the traditional classroom setting.
If the bill introduced by the member for Balmain is passed it will reduce the ability of TAFE to achieve business and governance reforms, locking it in the past and preventing it from evolving to remain relevant and successful. The Government's statement of owner expectations for TAFE NSW clearly and simply sets out the role of TAFE NSW and its key reform directions and accountabilities. TAFE NSW will continue to be the backbone of the training system in New South Wales, as it should be. The intention of this Government is to empower TAFE institutes to operate more autonomously, and to be more flexible and responsive to local employers and communities so it can continue as a vital part of the economic and social strategies that make New South Wales number one. Two practical examples reflect the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship that we have come to expect of TAFE NSW, and that the people and communities of New South Wales want to see more of now and once Smart and Skilled is in place.
TAFE Western Sydney Institute, the second largest online education provider in the world through Open Training and Education Network [OTEN], announced that from April this year it will introduce an entirely flexible course offering Mix+Match, making learning easy across 12 study areas. This means students can attend the same class at different campuses as well as access them online. This gives them the choice of how, when and where they study units within a qualification, all made available through an online shopping-style website for course selection and enrolment. This initiative follows a survey of Western Sydney Institute's students that found that approximately 80 per cent want more flexibility, including the flexibility to combine classroom teaching with online learning. The institute will extend Mix+Match to include workplace-based delivery. By the same token, last year TAFE's Western Sydney Institute won an NSW Premier's Award for revitalising regional New South Wales.
The institute's Western Connect program increases access to high-quality training for students, irrespective of where they live in the vast west of the State, using flexible learning methods including online, connected classrooms and specialised mobile units as well as workplace training. The member for Balmain has run a scare campaign that people in the bush will find it more difficult to access training, but TAFE is doing exactly what it should be doing: evolving to meet the growing and changing needs of students. Students no longer have to learn in a classroom; a range of technologies can be utilised to enhance educational opportunities. Smart and Skilled encourages this and TAFE is responding to that. Rather than locking out regional and rural people, TAFE is enhancing their educational opportunities.
More than 3,200 students gained access to training in 2012 through Western Connect—28 per cent of these students were Aboriginal and 10 per cent had a disability. This is a major achievement that should be encouraged. Smart and Skilled requires providers of education to innovate and compete on quality. That is what TAFE institutes have responded to and it is disgraceful that The Greens and the member for Balmain oppose this. In 2013, Aboriginal students enrolling in Certificate III qualifications as part of the Western Connect initiative had the best completion ratio at TAFE's Western Institute. I encourage all members to learn about Western Connect and the innovative use of mobile training units housed in specially equipped trailers and trucks to take the equipment and the training physically to the remote communities. These "pop-up" workshops provide training in childcare, nursing and health, coffee making, shearing, confined spaces, conservation earthworks, welding and many other areas for students who may otherwise have missed out or had to travel significant distances.
I am advised that Western Connect's mobile welding unit travels an 800-kilometre circuit for two weeks at a time and takes in Wilcannia as well as correctional centres in Broken Hill and Ivanhoe. Likewise, the mobile library is the only library service many of these communities have the opportunity to access. Combined, these technology-based and mobile learning strategies have enabled Western Institute to add around 80 new study choices for its students. Again, this gives students more choice; we should encourage TAFE to be more flexible. It provides a quality product and people are flocking to take courses. TAFE needs to be unshackled from the constraints it has been confined in so that it can provide quality education to meet the needs of students and, importantly, industry. This State needs a well-trained workforce to grow the economy.
This bill, if passed, would stifle innovations such Western Connect and Mix and Match. This bill would limit access to training, not least of all in the regions. This bill would take TAFE NSW backwards and undermine innovation. This Government will not support this bill. The Government has closely observed interstate reforms and their effects on TAFE systems—reforms that have had mixed success—to ensure we avoid unintended consequences. The member for Balmain said these reforms had resulted in the collapse of TAFE in other States. Let us have a look at the facts: One critical point of difference between the arrangements in New South Wales and interstate arrangements, which the member for Balmain failed to concede, is our clear recognition of the critical role of TAFE NSW as the public provider of vocational education and training.
The New South Wales Government strongly supports the new directions being led by the TAFE NSW board. This includes adapting its governance and services to meet the challenges of operating effectively in a more competitive environment. New members have been appointed recently to the board to strengthen its leadership in meeting the Government's priorities set out in the statement of owner expectations, and ensure its readiness for reforms under Smart and Skilled. The Government also supports the excellent leadership of the Managing Director, Ms Pam Christie, the 10 institute directors and other TAFE executives. I am proud of the outstanding job being done by the director of the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE in delivering a quality product to students in my electorate.
TAFE NSW is working closely with TAFE staff to develop new approaches to training delivery as well as business reforms. This bill puts at risk important reforms already well advanced within TAFE NSW. Last year, following extensive consultation with staff and unions, TAFE NSW successfully negotiated a new enterprise agreement for teachers. This agreement includes a trial of new flexible education support roles, complementing existing teaching roles as well as a new head teacher leadership role. This trial opens up new possibilities in the way TAFE can deliver its services. TAFE NSW has also restructured its head office. This restructure devolves more responsibilities to institutes while still supporting front-line staff. It is critical that TAFE NSW completes its transition into a more modern and responsive organisation that delivers value to individuals as well as to the public.
TAFE NSW has to operate efficiently, and to suggest otherwise simply does not make sense to the taxpayers of New South Wales. We have moved beyond the time when budgets were simply broad targets. No Government can waste taxpayer funds. Along with all New South Wales government agencies, TAFE NSW has met and continues to meet its efficiency targets. We understand that every dollar Government spends is a dollar that the public will have to pay in taxes, or $2 that children will have to pay in taxes when the debt has to be repaid. Like the private sector and government agencies, the Government has a budget it has to meet. TAFE should be no different: It should be accountable for its budget because it is spending other people's money. Smart and Skilled is ensuring TAFE has the flexibility to compete in that environment.
TAFE NSW also has to deliver a quality service otherwise it will not be competitive. That is why TAFE NSW rightly regards the students and employers to whom it provides services as its customers; they are key stakeholders in the Smart and Skilled package. These are customers who have a choice as well as high expectations. During this reform period and into the future this Government has set clear targets and priorities for TAFE NSW as its public provider that support NSW 2021: A Plan to Make NSW Number One. That is why I reiterate to members opposite, as well as to staff in TAFE institutes, The Greens and unions in New South Wales that the changes we are making to TAFE will support TAFE's future success in operating in a more contestable environment. TAFE NSW is meeting the challenge and is actively preparing for the next step in competition. Competition is not new to TAFE institutes, which daily compete aggressively for students and win business based on the excellence and professionalism they continually demonstrate.
Read full transcript in Hansard here.