Budget has grim news for vocational students

News media have finally caught up with the latest hit to vocational education students – withdrawal of Centrelink support unless the government approves their course.

Although included in the May budget papers, nobody (including the media) noticed this major reform, and most students planning on income support are still in the dark.

The government kept very quiet about the change, with no known media releases. Even the Centrelink website has no information on the change.

However this week stories in the Australian Financial Review and the ABC’s youth-oriented JJJ Hack program highlighted the cut-back, which will affect future journalism students.

As outlined by AFR’s Tim Dodd, “Under the change, students who commence diploma level, or above, courses from next year will only be eligible for income support – through Youth Allowance (for students), Austudy, ABSTUDY and Pensioner Education Supplement – if they are doing a course which qualifies for the new VET Student Loans scheme.

“VET Student Loans is far more restrictive than the loan scheme it replaced – VET FEE HELP – and offers loans only for a list of courses approved by the federal government which it believes are best matched to skill needs.” (http://www.afr.com/leadership/budget-cuts-180-million-from-income-support-payments-for-diploma-students-20170922-gyn844)

On JJJ’s ‘Hack’ program, Shalailah Medhora reported widespread concern on the part of students and colleges affected.

As she outlined the issue:

“If you’re thinking of studying journalism, photography, fitness coaching or biblical studies at TAFE or a private college next year, then be warned: you might not be able to get income support while you study.

“Last year, the Government cracked down on the number of courses in the vocational education and training (or VET) sector that were eligible for student loans. That was in response to rorting by some dodgy private colleges under the previous VET student loans scheme.

“More than half of the available courses – 56 per cent – were deemed ineligible because they did not satisfy areas of skills shortages.

“The arts were particularly hard hit – only 13 of the 70 available VET courses were eligible for student loans. You can still take up these courses, but you’ll have to pay the full price of the course upfront. They aren’t cheap – at private colleges a diploma can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“In this year’s budget, the Federal Government included a measure that would cut income assistance – things like Youth Allowance, AusStudy and AbStudy – for students who take on a VET course that’s not on the approved study list.

“So if you decide to study something like dance or life coaching – which aren’t approved courses – you could be in for a double whammy. You’ll have to pay for the course upfront, and you might not be able to access welfare while you’re studying.”

One student she interviewed, 21-year-old Mia Ferguson from North Queensland said her dreams of studying at Sydney Theatre School were up in the air.

“It’s really disheartening for people who really aspire to want to be something,” she said.

Medhora reported strong opposition from the Australian Education Union:

“Federal TAFE Secretary of the Australian Education Union, Pat Forward, has labelled the proposals ‘Orwellian’.

“’The decision to scrap payments for [VET] students is absolutely social engineering,’

she said.

“Students can study arts and other types of courses that are restricted under the new VET system at university without the same constraints, but Pat said that’s unfair.

“’It’s impacting on a certain group of students, those who are for whatever reason better suited or choose a vocational education over higher education qualifications,’ she said.

“It is an attempt to channel them into courses that the Government has determined are courses that are suitable for the new scheme.”

“The Government worked out the list of approved courses based on areas of skills shortages. So if there are jobs going in construction, then courses that cover that are given a tick.

“But Rod Camm from the Australian Council of Private Education and Training said it’s ‘impossible’ for governments to guess what jobs young people will have in the future.

“’Young people today should expect 15 to 20 jobs in their career. We can train for today, we know the jobs of today, but ultimately you want adaptability,’ he said.

Also interviewed was Jschool director John Henningham, who said the government was discriminating against vocational students.

‘This policy is very discriminatory because man of the courses students can do at university they’re now not able to do in a vocational framework.’

Medhora found that government ministers responsible for the new policy were suddenly unavailable for comment:

“Hack asked Social Services Minister Christian Porter, Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Assistant Minister for Vocational Education Karen Andrews for comment on this story, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.”