The future of public sector vocational education and training: the 2012 Queensland and Victorian case for reform

2017-05-15T06:45:40Z (GMT) by Simmons, Virginia
Through the late twentieth century there was a shift from government to governance in education. The development of network governance saw public sector providers of vocational education and training (VET) move to an increasingly privatised form of training, as all the Australian States and Territories became signatories to national competitive neutrality principles. The subsequent policy changes authorised the opening up of government funding so that it became accessible to a growing private VET sector and also diminished the role for public sector VET as the vehicle through which governments across Australia implemented their training policy objectives. This reform trajectory raises questions about Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and whether this public VET sector has any distinctive role or public value. The term ‘marketised governance’ is adopted to convey how this shift in VET in Australia has been characterised by networks dominated by private sector actors and neo-liberal principles such as privatisation, competition, deregulation, and efficiency, leading to a competitive training market. The concept of ‘public value’ and how governments have interpreted it since TAFE came into being as a discrete tertiary sector is used to understand how the governance and role of TAFE has shifted. The ‘strategic triangle’ developed by Moore (1995) is used as a means to recognise public value. Reviews commissioned by the governments of Queensland and Victoria during 2012 were selected as case studies of public sector TAFE reform. The arguments for reforming TAFE were analysed in order to investigate the impact of the shift to marketised governance and the significance of public value. Both reviews recommended increased competition in the VET sector, with significant changes to TAFE. The methodology of political discourse analysis developed by Fairclough and Fairclough (2012) is applied to selected texts drawn from the resulting reports. The analyses make it possible to evaluate the arguments presented in the reviews and to identify the extent to which the concept of public value is seen as relevant. The research shows that the tenets of marketised governance dominate the discourse in both case studies, although the arguments used in support of competition and privatisation are open to serious question. With public providers expected to compete on the same terms as private providers, the research reveals little to no acknowledgement of the concept of public value or recognition of a distinct role to be played in this regard by TAFE. The thesis concludes by noting the continued trajectory towards privatisation of VET in the context of marketised governance but also flaws in the arguments for increased competition. It would seem that unless these flaws in the argument become more apparent and VET policy-makers become more engaged with the discourse on public value, the future of TAFE is uncertain.