國外編輯部/惡質詐財的職訓單位,看看澳洲政府如何解決他!

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作者/ Mary Leahy

編譯/ 陳嵩仁

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惡質詐財的職訓單位,看看澳洲政府如何解決他!

 

澳洲的職業教育簡直是一攤爛水!即使政府加強監督管理,試著拋出一些措施來避免這攤爛水帶來負面影響,但提出的措施都是治標不治本,完全無法解決核心問題。真正該省思的,是如何調整職業教育的經費與管理模式。

這些職訓機構如何運作?

許多消息指出,在職業教育和訓練(VET)存在著鑽漏洞和尋租(編按:透過賄賂、腐化、走私、及黑市等的非法行為來追求利潤的方式,創造了少數持有特權者,透過不平等競爭方式,憑權力取得超額收入的機會,此種行為即稱為尋租活動。)等行為。有些職訓機構的手法實在欺人太甚,白白讓數千名學生報名課程卻損失受教的權益。他們一貫手法如下:

  • 申請公司行號
  • 盡可能招攬學生註冊或申請多項課程
  • 要學生申請VET-FEE HELP學貸
  • 向政府申請全額補助
  • 只要學生在選課前註冊,業者都能獲得補助款

 

假職訓真斂財?

有些不肖業者透過鑽漏洞來獲得大量利潤,甚至有些課程收取$10000澳幣的高額學費,這些業者完全不需負擔任何成本與風險。根據統計,VET-FEE HELP發出的補助款,自2014年的1.7億澳幣,在2015年爆增到2.4億澳幣,但多數職訓機構畢業率卻不到10%。

業者為了提高學生文憑錄取率,迫使學生在極短時間內考取,就不用繼續開辦接下來的課程。這種手段就是俗稱的「打勾轉稅(Tick and Flick)」。但光是在維多利亞州(位於澳洲東岸南部),一年就有將近9,500個資格被註銷。所以實行了延後發放補助款的時間,從"開始上課"改到"課程結束"才給予款項。這個舉動雖然能強制業者提供課程給學生學習,卻無法阻止業者繼續鑽漏洞的行徑。

早就預測到的後果

或許會有人說,當初沒有人會想到變成這個樣子。但這是錯的! 知名學者Leesa Wheelahan一直以來主張著這種改革只會走向競相趨劣的死胡同。同時許多相關議題也在媒體與業界中廣泛討論著。

公營職訓中心TAFE尤其深受影響,市占率大幅下滑。同樣狀況也發生在其他私人職訓機構,真正在職業訓練上有所付出的機構,也不敵能夠提供更快更容易取得文憑的競爭對手。

政府如何應對這個問題?

面對這些問題,政府已開始實行措施,首先不再允許職訓機構發放獎勵(像是筆電和iPad),再來,延緩給職訓機構的補助款,業者將在課程全部結束後才能收到款項。

貸部分則不再透過職訓機構來申請,改由教育和職業訓練部接手處裡。這個政策值得我們給個掌聲。

澳洲是怎麼走到這一步?

目前澳洲職訓現況是經過多次教改而來,原本教改的初衷是希望能提供學生更多較好的選擇以及更優質的環境。但自2009年及2012的澳大洲國會(COAG)協議後,澳洲各地以需求導向為首的職訓系統就此立足。

當時是希望給予學生更大的選擇空間,使職訓機構能隨著學生和雇主的需求快速調整。其中維多利亞州是第一個響應改革的州,但急遽上升的補貼金,最後毫不意外的導致維多利亞州的預算爆炸。當時的政府承認這種模式無法改變,唯一能改善的,只剩下補貼金額及融資利率的調整。

直到2012年5月,幾次大幅度的預算削減,其他州才緊隨其後。以維多利亞模式作為借鏡,希望避免重蹈覆轍。也因為政策面的不確定性,間接形成鑽漏洞制度,讓職訓機構惡意引導學生註冊獲得更多補助款。

職業訓練過去長期被邊緣化,其一原因是人們只重視教育的結果而忽略學習過程,剝奪所需要的就業知識,最後導致人們對職業教育的存在意義產生了許多質疑。

關鍵問題

對於評估一個職訓課程的好壞,在職業教育方面一直是個問題,往往只能在課程結束後,才能加以斷定;另一問題是整個職業教育是建立在有缺陷的假設上。有一研究機構已證明我們不是一個理性的經濟體,我們的決定都受到框架效應的影響、我們的喜好是不固定的、我們對於風險評估是考量在某些特定情況下所得到的機會,加上當下有無獎勵並納入所需的成本所綜合形成。這些研究結果都挑戰著以消費者政策作為支撐的假設。

許多研究針對年輕人在學習和工作之間抉擇,在某些經濟條件限制下,他們只能放棄學習機會。

對於那些濫用人們心理來獲利的機構,我們應該公佈並加以譴責,因為這些漏洞才是助長不肖業者的問題所在。懲誡那些有問題的補助和管理模式才能治本。

展望未來

我們必須重新審視職業教育。政府應立即採取措施監控VET-FEE HELP學貸申請過程,且要解除劣質職訓單位經營權。希望各國能重視並採取行動,例如,維多利亞州的職業教育與訓練經費審查。然而,相當多的風險仍然存在,當職訓單位的「利潤」減少時,可能引發服務品質下降,當這樣連鎖效應發生時,學生便難以判斷課程的價值。

是時候開始改革職業了!建立一個嚴謹的教育系統,讓那些不肖業者沒有機會鑽取漏洞,並透過量身打造的課程,來強化每個人在職業訓練生涯所需要的專業知識、技巧和能力。打破常規,用特長贏取這場戰役,這種學習方式才能為職業生涯做好準備,發展無限潛能。

 

【作者:Mary Leahy

Mary Leahy女士將教育機會、受訓機會及工作機會等議題視為她研究教學的主要目標 。

具體研究方向包括:教育部門間的接口、升學及畢業至就業間的過渡期、技職教育和培訓(VET)、兩性議題、婦女與工作、政策上哲學基礎、Nussbaum和Sen所提倡的能力取向論點、還有關於選擇和制定決策的學說。

近期研究項目包括:新南威爾士州的年輕人高中畢業後的目標、VET的培訓基金流向、評估非以基礎能力取向得證照可行性,並且深入調查升學及就業管道等相關議題。

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Reforming vocational education: it’s time to end the exploitation of vulnerable people

 

Australia’s vocational education sector is a mess.

Tightening regulation and tweaking some of the settings will contain the damage, but these measures alone will not address deeper problems in the sector.

Real, sustained improvement requires rethinking the funding and regulatory models but also the purpose and idea of vocational education.

How the business model works

There is clear evidence of rorting and rent-seeking in the vocational education and training (VET) sector.

The behaviour of some training providers, agents and brokers is nothing short of despicable. Thousands of students are being signed up to courses that they have little or no chance of completing.

The business model is fairly simple:

  • Register as a training provider and ensure your students have access to VET FEE HELP income-contingent loans.
  • Sign up as many students as possible for single or double diplomas.
  • The student takes on a VET FEE HELP loan to defer payment of course fees.
  • The training provider receives the VET FEE HELP payment from the government.
  • As long as the student is enrolled beyond the census date, the training provider is paid.
  • Even if the course is never started, the provider will receive funds from the government and the student is liable for the debt.
Chasing the dollar

This has given reprehensible providers a stream of revenue without the expense or trouble of providing much in the way of education.

Fees have grown, with a number of providers charging over $10,000 for a diploma.

The figures are staggering. A total of $2.4 billion in VET-FEE HELP was paid to training providers in 2015 (up to November 15), a big increase from $1.7 billion in 2014.

Yet graduation rates for many providers were abysmal, well under 10%.

Other providers do graduate their students, pushing them through qualifications in improbably short times. The approach has been described as “tick and flick”.

In Victoria alone, around 9,500 qualifications were revoked in one year.

The suggestion that payment should be shifted from when a student starts a course to when they complete it will not prevent the rorting, although it may force some providers to at least go through the motions of offering an educational program.

This outcome was predicted

Some shake their heads and say that no one could have foreseen what has happened. But it was predicted.

Prominent academic Leesa Wheelahan consistently argued that the reforms would result in a race to the bottom. Others expressed similar views in the media and within the sector.

The TAFE institutes have been hit hard, with a significant reduction in market share. Conditions are also difficult for any private operators with a genuine commitment to vocational education when competitors offer quicker, easier qualifications.

How have governments responded?

Governments have taken some action. Training providers are no longer permitted to provide incentives such as laptops and iPads, although there is evidence the practice has continued.

Providers will no longer receive up-front payment for the whole course. Funding for the loans has been frozen.

The Department of Education and Training is preparing to receive loan applications rather than leaving the training providers to process these.

These initiatives are to be applauded.

Key government reviews into funding, quality and the private training providers have also been undertaken. The extent of their impact on government policy is still emerging.

Alternative options being considered

Other options are being debated across the sector. These include risk-based approaches to regulation of providers and/or qualifications.

It has been suggested that students should be charged a minimum fee so they have “skin in the game”.

Questions are being asked about the wisdom of allowing the same organisation to train, assess and issue a qualification.

There is interest in finding reliable ways of distinguishing between providers that seek to deliver high-quality education and training, from operations seeking to milk public funding.

There is also renewed interest in the practice of teaching, which has been marginalised over the past 30 years.

Significant profits have been extracted but scrutiny from various regulatory bodies and the media has had an impact.

A number of large training businesses are in serious trouble. The Vocation group has folded and Australian Careers Network’s shares have been suspended since October. More will follow.

How did we get here?

The current situation has been built by layers of reform intended to create a vibrant, responsive sector that provided greater choice and flexibility for students.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreements in 2009 and 2012 led to the implementation of demand-driven training systems across Australia.

The idea was to give students greater choice and make providers more responsive to students and employers.

Victoria was the first state to implement the reform. Rapid growth in subsidised training rather predictably led to a massive budget blowout.

The government’s commitment to the market model was ironclad, leaving adjustment to the subsidy or funding rates as its only response.

A dramatic cut in May 2012 was followed by other significant reductions. Other states followed, introducing variations of the Victorian model, all hoping to avoid the pitfalls.

The lack of certainty encouraged providers to game the system and direct students into the courses that attracted higher levels of subsidy. In some cases this was a matter of survival. This problem was compounded once access to VET FEE HELP was expanded.

Longer-term shifts in the sector have also impacted the quality of vocational education.

The marginalisation of teaching, which is starting to be reversed, is one factor. Another is a form of outcomes-based education that does not recognise development and growth and is stripped of the knowledge we need for employment and citizenship. This raises fundamental questions about the purpose and function of vocational education.

Key issues

One of the problems with a market in education is that only after the course has been completed can the quality of education and training be assessed.

Another issue is that the vocational education market is based on flawed assumptions about the way we form preferences and make decisions.

There is a body of research that demonstrates that we do not operate as rational economic agents. We are all influenced by the way options are framed. Our preferences are not fixed. Our assessment of risk is shaped by our circumstances, particularly the opportunities available to us and the timing of any rewards and costs.

These findings challenge the assumptions underpinning user-choice policies.

Choosing a VET course is complex. There are five levels of qualifications, thousands of providers and specific rules about entitlement to government subsidy and VET FEE HELP loans.

A number of research projects are examining young people’s choices about study and work. It is apparent that the difficult circumstances some face limit the meaningful opportunities available to them.

The behaviour of providers and agents that exploit the hopes of people seeking to improve their prospects should continue to be exposed and condemned. But we also need to examine fundamentally flawed funding and regulatory models that allow and reward the exploitation.

Looking forward

Measures to control VET-FEE HELP will rein in the worst excesses.

Some operators will leave the sector. Others are reviewing their policies and practices. Hopefully governments will act on recommendations such as those produced by the Victorian VET Funding Review.

However, considerable risks remain when there is pressure to extract a profit and limited opportunities to cut costs without compromising the quality of provision.

This is compounded when students are unable to judge the value of their course until it is too late.

Politicians, policymakers and commentators need to ask whether the market can deliver what was promised by reforms in this sector and by the recently adopted competition policy.

We also need to reconsider the type of vocational education developed and delivered in Australia.

Some researchers argue for a more coherent approach to vocational development. Qualifications will be organised within broad vocational streams such as engineering or care work. Social partners will play a role in identifying the capabilities that will underpin qualifications. Courses will be designed to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes a person needs to work in their vocational stream.

In this way people will be prepared for a career, not just for a job that may be transformed or disappear. The approach is designed to build trust in the quality and relevance of qualifications.

A system that demands robust vocational education will not be attractive to those focused on extracting excessive profits.

Wasting public funds is a serious matter, but more troubling is the trashing of the vocational education system and the exploitation of vulnerable people.

 

【Author:Mary Leahy

Mary Leahy’s research and teaching focuses on access to education, training and employment. Her specific research interests include: pathways; the interface between education sectors; transitions within education and between education and employment; vocational education and training (VET); gender; women and work, the philosophical underpinnings of policy; Nussbaum and Sen’s capabilities approach; and theories on choice, preference formation and decision making.

Recent research projects include: post-school destinations of young people in NSW; mapping funding flows in the VET sector; assessing the feasibility of non-competency based qualifications; and investigating pathways within education and between education and employment.

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圖片來源:UNAMID@flickr

原文刊登於《The Conversation》,經作者Mary Leahy授權編譯,未經許可不得轉載

 

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