Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Vocational Education and Training
I rise to speak about fee-free TAFE and to try to give a unique perspective on not just TAFE but vocational education, apprenticeships and university education more broadly. That comes from some recent experiences I've had travelling overseas.
In early 2020, I was a recipient of a Churchill Fellowship. My fellowship sought to understand the links between industry and education and what other countries were doing and how they were doing a bit better than us in making sure that young people have aspirations and pathways into industry. I observed that Germany, Sweden and Finland, particularly, have very vibrant vocational education sectors and some unique and cultural ways of getting young people into those vocational education systems. I'll talk about a few examples that I saw.
In Germany, I went to Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart. They were very focused on apprenticeships where young people would do an apprenticeship with Mercedes-Benz for a couple of days a week, then go to the vocational education school or the tech school. The tech school was significantly funded by the government, and there were very good outcomes, according to Mercedes-Benz, in terms of the quality of the kids and the technicians. In the German culture, getting a vocational education and going to tech school is just as highly valued as going to university. That's why they have had such success in their manufacturing sector.
It was the same in Finland. In Finland I noticed that universities and tech schools are seen as an equivalent and that their manufacturing companies need both to be successful. An interesting statistic that the Finnish education department talked to me about was the fact that they have not had an increase in university enrolments since the early 2000s, and they're fine with that because they understand that they need some of their young people to go to university and some of their young people to go to vocational education.
In this debate there will be a bit of, 'We spent more on TAFE,' and, 'You're saying TAFE will be free.' I welcome the debate. It's the back-and-forth in this chamber. What I want to contribute is that we don't just need TAFE to be free—if it is going to be free; I think we can have that debate—but we need to look at TAFE being better. I think we can all work towards that. I think we can look at the vocational education systems in Europe and see how they have made them not only better but also more attractive for young people to go into.
TAFE exists in my electorate and does some very good things, but I think the engagement between industry and TAFE hasn't been as good as it has been. I think state governments could do a lot more to encourage more collaboration between industry and TAFE. What I saw in Europe was collaboration, and I saw quality young people coming out with tech school based apprenticeships that led to really good outcomes for manufacturers.
I think the most important thing we can work towards in Australia is making sure that vocational education is seen as being as important for the nation as university education. Culturally, we need to hold the two at an equal level and make sure that our focus and funding, particular from the state government perspective, is directed in that way. I will close with those recent experiences I had in Europe. I encourage us, in moving forward, to make sure young people have aspiration and a pathway into the occupation of their choice. That may be an apprenticeship, it may be university or it may be vocational education. Let's make sure we encourage them towards that.