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A radical reshaping of early childhood and care training is essential to address shortages in the sector. This is the recommendation to the government following a review of skills training funding policies by the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA). ITECA is the peak body representing independent providers in the skills training, higher education, and international education sectors.

Data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) indicates that there were 113,095 enrolments in the Certificate III and Diploma training package programs in 2022.

“Notably, more than 75 per cent of these enrolments were with independent Registered Training Organisations. Yet, fewer than 63 per cent of the enrolments at independent RTOs were from students who received any government support for their study,” said Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive.

“Despite the government’s rhetoric about supporting students in early childhood education and care, there were more than 25,200 enrolments from students who were required to pay full fees to attend quality independent RTOs with no support from the government. Many students can’t afford to pay the study fees, and so they miss out on taking up training in this critical area,” Mr Williams said.

The NCVER data shows the mismatch in government funding allocation to student demand, with 92 per cent of enrolments in the two Certificate III and Diploma early childhood and care programs at TAFE subsidised by government funding programs. According to ITECA, workforce shortages could be addressed if more students studying with independent RTOs were able to access similar government support.

“Imagine how many more students we could get into early childhood and care courses if the Australian, state, and territory governments reshaped funding models so that more students could access funding to study with quality independent training providers,” Mr Williams said.

Moreover, ITECA underscores that financing more students to engage with independent trainers would expand the reach of early childhood education and care qualifications nationwide. For example, independent RTOs support 65 per cent of students pursuing early childhood education and care qualifications in rural, remote, and regional Australia.

“When looking at skills funding models, it’s important to note that 56 per cent of Indigenous students studying early childhood and care programs also study with independent RTOs. Sadly, many of these students are unable to access government skills funding,” Mr Williams said.

The advice from ITECA comes as the Australian, state, and territory governments are finalising the delivery of the new five-year intergovernmental skills funding agreement. A key aspect of this agreement is the government’s intent to ‘put TAFE at the heart’ of the skills funding agreement.

“For many students, the current government skills funding policy is a barrier – not an enabler – for them seeking to study early childhood education and care qualifications. This is because their local TAFE might not offer the necessary programs, but a nearby independent provider with a reputable curriculum might, and yet they are not supported if they choose that quality independent RTO,” Mr Williams said.

Consequently, ITECA has formally reached out to the Australian, state, and territory Ministers in charge of vocational education and training, urging a transformative overhaul of the skills funding framework.

“Students need to be at the heart of the skills training system. They should be endorsed by the government to study with their chosen provider when pursuing early childhood education and care qualifications. While some might opt to study with TAFE, based upon recent data the majority will prefer to study with an independent RTO known for its commitment to excellence,” Mr. Williams concluded.