10/11/2016 - 11:55

Funding cuts threat to creative arts

10/11/2016 - 11:55

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A drain of talent from the creative arts pool could result if the government pushes ahead with proposed plans to decrease funding support for training.

Funding cuts threat to creative arts
Students aspiring to undertake a dance diploma at WAAPA could potentially miss out on student loan support. Photo: Kathy Wheatley

A drain of talent from the creative arts pool could result if the government pushes ahead with proposed plans to decrease funding support for training.

Plans by the federal government to alter the current Vet-Fee-Help student loans scheme could have a deleterious effect on student enrolments in creative arts courses over the long term, advocates say, putting Australia at a significant disadvantage in terms of cultural exports and the local industry.

The government’s new system is expected to provide funding support for just 347 courses out of a previous catalogue of more than 800.

Of the 70 creative arts courses previously funded by the scheme, only 13 made the new Vet Student Loans course list.  

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said the new scheme would be implemented in 2017 and that the revised course list was determined by the state and territories skills needs list, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) objectives and employment outcomes.

“We’ve looked at other areas of high economic need, such as Stem skills or agricultural skills, to make sure that list represents our national economic priorities,” Mr Birmingham said.

“We want to ensure that the courses that Australian taxpayers are subsidising and that we are encouraging students to study will optimise employment outcomes.

“All agriculture, engineering or related technologies, information technology and natural and physical science courses remain on the new course list, recognising the national importance of agriculture and Stem jobs as we transition to the 21st century economy.

Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts director professor Julie Warn said two of the courses the institute offered, the diploma and advanced diploma of dance (elite performance) and diploma of screen performance had not made the revised list.   

“Graduates are really well prepared for industry; it’s not a mass fodder exercise, it’s vocational training with job prospects in mind,” Ms Warn told Business News.

“I think Stem is really important and it is fantastic there is a focus on it, but it can’t be the be all and end all.

“There has to be a balanced approach to everything – the arts are important to society too.”

Ms Warn said four of Wappa’s students currently enrolled in dance studies (pictured) had recently been accepted into the prestigious Genée International Ballet Competition – proof, she said, of both quality training and valuable opportunities the course offered.

Concern

The Vet-Fee-Help scheme began in 2009, to provide loans to vocational education and training (Vet) qualifications and remove the financial barriers to study.

It is one of five loan schemes under the Higher Education Loan Program (Help).

According to a government discussion paper released earlier this year (‘Redesigning Vet-Fee-Help’), 16 reforms had been introduced in 2016 in an attempt to address issues around unethical behaviour from a number of providers, quality of courses and the increasing cost of the scheme, driven in part by unpaid loans and high incompletion rates by student.

The Parliamentary Budget Office calculated that the annual cost of Help loans on an underlying cash basis would rise to $11.1 billion in 10 years. It claims the introduction of Vet-Fee-Help accounted for 35 per cent ($3.3 billion) of this amount.

Vet-Fee-Help scheme loans increased dramatically since the program was implemented, from $26 million in 2009 to more than $2.9 billion in 2015.

Despite some progress as a result of the reforms, the government decided the scheme was no longer sustainable in its current form.

The chief executive of FutureNow Creative and Leisure Training, the Western Australian Training Council for the Creative and Leisure Industries, Julie Hobbs, said while the removal of qualifications from the list extended to a range of industries, the cuts to the creative sector was significant. 

“The government’s plan to reform the Vet-Fee-Help policy is welcome, but the removal of many qualifications has been a very dramatic response,” Ms Hobbs told Business News.

“As long as a narrow metric of measuring whether a qualification leads to a full-time job is applied, the creative sector will be disadvantaged because the work is frequently self-employed, freelance, and project-driven.” 

Tafe Directors Australia and the Australian Council for Private Education and Training issued statements on their websites that they were not consulted prior to the announcement of the list of courses eligible for the new Vet loans.

Consequences

Ms Hobbs said the government had provided the opportunity for training and education provider representatives to respond to the Vet Student Loan proposal and eligible course list. Despite the time frame limited to just two weeks, FutureNow had made a submission on behalf of sectors including the cultural and creative arts.

The submission details how industry providers may need to shorten the length of diplomas from 12 to six months in order to make them economically viable, potentially affecting the quality and quantity of learning opportunities.

Wappa, via Edith Cowan University, has also made a submission to the government, stating that dance and the bachelor of performing arts courses should be eligible for students to receive student loans.

Ms Warn said the number of quality graduates could be reduced if the current proposal went ahead, and she was concerned the public may develop a misconception that these courses wouldn’t exist anymore and deter future students from applying.

FutureNow’s Ms Hobbs said it would be disappointing if the cost of training provided an impediment to a career in the creative sector and that access and equity issues would be compromised.  

“If Australia wants to be competitive within the cultural industry space globally there needs to be a reasonable investment,” Ms Hobbs said.

“A strong, robust and resilient cultural sector needs to be supported by high-quality training and education, to feed the pipeline of creative talent to generate the workforce that we need.”

Since submissions have been made public, Tafe Directors Australia last week called for a moratorium of a year to allow further consultation and time for the transition to take place. 

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