Proposed Federal Government spending for universities did not figure heavily in Josh Frydenberg’s budget speech on Tuesday night. However, it caught our eye that the Government has announced $525 million in spending to upgrade and modernise the vocational education and training (VET) sector. This is particularly significant given that the VET sector is shared between the Commonwealth and State and Territories (and requires cooperation between the two levels of government).

The skills package includes:

  • the creation of up to 80,000 new apprenticeships in industries with identified skills shortages like carpentry, plumbing and hairdressing
  • $62.4 million for the launching of a new foundational language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills program for Australian citizens and permanent residents
  • $50.6 million for the establishment of 10 training hubs across Australia to support industry pathways in areas of local skills shortages. These hubs are intended to help create better connections between industry and schools
  • the establishment of a National Skills Commission to develop a nationally consistent approach to the funding of VET qualifications and drive analysis of future skills needs across industry. The Government expects to appoint a National Skills Commissioner to head the body by September
  • the establishment of a National Careers Institute to provide guidance on careers advice and grow interest in the VET sector.

The measures announced are largely in response to the independent review of Australia’s VET sector announced by Scott Morrison in November 2018 and led by Steven Joyce, former New Zealand Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment. The review’s report, Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System was delivered to the Government in March 2019.

For the university sector, the budget provides some commitments from the Government including:

  • $93.7 million for scholarships for students to study at regional campuses
  • $15.8 million to expand the VET unique student identifier to higher education
  • specific commitments to individual universities worth over $60 million, such as $5 million to Melbourne University for the Stawell underground physics lab.

The increased spending on skills training will be a welcome announcement for the VET sector. We look forward to seeing the details regarding these commitments. We will also watch with interest how the Federal Opposition will reply to these commitments made to the sector by the Government.