A decision on whether to establish an inquiry into private education and training providers has been delayed after a bizarre evening in the Senate saw a feud in the Palmer United Party overrun the day’s business.
On Tuesday evening Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon lodged the proposed terms of reference for a broad ranging inquiry into how private Vocational Education and Training (VET) organisations have been using government funds, in the wake of a series of high profile scandals.
Both the Greens and Labor are arguing the inquiry will also have broader implications for Christopher Pyne’s plan to deregulate the university sector, and reveal the danger of allowing large volumes of public money to flow into private hands.
Public funding to private VET providers has sharply increased in recent years, with states like Victoria deregulating their systems while cutting money to public TAFEs.
On Wednesday Independent Senator Nick Xenophon confirmed his support for the inquiry, as did the Australian Council of Private Education and Training.
A vote to establish the inquiry is now likely to go ahead early next week and its backers are confident the Jacqui Lambie/Clive Palmer schism will not be a problem in securing the numbers required to get it up.
As currently proposed, the inquiry will focus on a range of issues including:
• The access private vocational education and training providers have to Commonwealth and State public funding
• The cost of education at private vocational education and training providers
• The regulatory regime private vocational education and training providers operate within
• The quality of education provided by private vocational education and training providers, volume of learning requirements and graduate outcomes
• Marketing and promotional techniques employed by private vocational education and training providers and education brokers both domestic and international
• Any incidents or allegations of non-compliance with regulation and funding arrangements at private vocational education and training providers
• Political donations made by private vocational education and training providers
• International comparisons to the Australian funding and regulatory regime
• The operation, regulation and funding of private vocational education and training providers specifically offering courses in aged care and early childhood education and their labour market outcomes
Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane declined to comment on whether the Coalition would support the motion establishing the inquiry, but stood by the government’s record on regulation.
“The Government has already released new standards for training providers which come into effect in 2015,” he said.
“These new standards will provide greater clarity around marketing and brokering arrangements, as well as clarifying the information that must be provided to prospective students.
Shadow Minister Kim Carr said the inquiry would be important to help shore up Australia's international reputation on education provision.
"It’s a very difficult argument for the government to resist I would have thought – no doubt they’ll try," he said.
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