The report finds that not-for-profit community-based vocational education and training (VET) providers play a disproportionately large role in rural and regional Australia, educating at least 10% of VET students in New South Wales and 20% in Victoria. This makes community providers a significant national force in providing skills to non-metropolitan Australia.
Participation rates in VET courses are 50% higher in rural and regional Australia than in metropolitan areas. A much larger percentage of rural and regional VET learners also study lower level qualifications: Certificate III and below – just those qualifications that community education providers excel in, with their focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.
This report shows how community education is crucial in providing skills and in driving economic development in rural and regional Australia, and includes numerous examples of ‘bottom-up’ innovative community-based approaches. Community education providers are uniquely positioned to act as ‘passing gear’ vehicles, accelerating new ideas and helping our regions to prosper.
Governments have not been investing enough in community education, particularly in high need, disadvantaged rural and regional areas where youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. Australia has not seen any national infrastructure investment in community education since 2009. On top of this, Australia lacks a coherent national statement on the role of community education in VET. This policy vacuum makes it difficult for community providers to operate effectively.
The report makes a number of key recommendations, including that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments should:
- Boost funding for community education, including providing more support for infrastructure, professional development and staff training, pilot funding programs, and community service obligation activities.
- Utilise regional and rural community education providers to engage with vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians, particularly young people.
- Develop a coordinated national-state-territory policy statement on the value and place of community and adult education.
- Examine VET funding programs to ensure community providers are not disadvantaged by unnecessary regulations.
- Collect and publish annual data on regional and rural student outcomes and provider comparisons.