10 January 2015

NSW Liberal Government denying disabled veteran students one free course per year

Disabled veterans received a surprise this new year from the NSW Liberal Government when it's Technical and Further Education (TAFE) reforms went into effect on 1 January 2015. Under the new reforms, the NSW Smart and Skilled program restricted disabled students from receiving one free course per year in all diploma courses and also restricted certain courses below Certificate IV that are not listed on the Smart and Skilled program.

This morning The Sun-Herald reported in an article entitled TAFE NSW back-pedals over $2200 fee for disabled student, that the State Government has now changed its mind and disabled students will be permitted one free course per year at TAFE.

Based upon information and belief, the NSW Government failed to consult veterans organisations on the changes to TAFE educational fees that would affect disabled veterans and their dependents.   Mr Adrian Piccoli, the Minister for Education in New South Wales had previously indicated that disabled students would not be worse off in the new TAFE reforms.  Clearly that was not the case.

Several disabled veterans living in NSW have been told they had to pay full fees to TAFE otherwise they could not be enrolled in a course.  The courses include diploma level and one non-diploma level that is a Certificate IV but is not listed on the State's Smart and Skilled program.

In past years disabled students, to include those who were on the Centrelink Disability Support Pension, or DSP, and those who held a Gold Repatriation Health Card by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) showing they were in receipt of an Extreme Disablement Adjustment or Total and Permanent Incapacity payment were permitted to have one free course per year and thereafter a concession fee granted.  The same applied for the dependents of those on DSP and DVA Gold card.

While today's Sun-Herald article gives indication that TAFE has back-peddled. There is certainly some inconsistency and confusion.  For example compare this year's TAFE NSW FEE EXEMPTION APPLICATION FORM - 2015 which can be found here with that of last year's 2014 form which can be found here

The 2015 form clearly indicates, in Note 2 that "Learners under this category are entitled to one full-fee exemption for one Skills List qualification per year. Subsequent qualification enrolments, up to and including Certificate IV only, in the same year will attract the appropriate Smart & Skilled Concession fee per qualification enrolment." Note 3 of section C indicates that "Individual learners who are eligible for a fee exemption from the Smart & Skilled fee on the on the basis of being either a recipient of the Disability Support Pension or a Client of a Teacher / Consultant may only be granted one fulle fee exemption for one Skills List qualification per year, and are eligible for the appropriate Concession fee for subsequent enrolments, up to and including Certificate IV only . . ." Comparing this 2015 form to that of the 2014 form there were no such restrictions last year.

If one turns to the NSW Government's website where the Smart and Skilled program is, which can be found here, the Fee Exemptions and concessions for Smart and Skilled training page which can be found here, indicates the following:
Exemptions
An exemption is where no fee is charged to the student. For exemptions, the government subsidises the total cost of the qualification. Fee exemptions are available to eligible students who:
• are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (through descent, self-identification or community identification)
• meet the Smart and Skilled disability criteria, for their first course commencement in a calendar year (proof of a disability support pension or documentary evidence from an appropriate medical professional is required)
• are the dependants of disability support pension recipients, for their first course commencement in a calendar year.
Concession fees
Concession fees are discounted fees for disadvantaged people who are studying for qualifications up to and including Certificate IV. The concession fee applies to the whole qualification and is a flat fee set for each qualification level, ranging from $80 for a foundation skills course to $240 for a Certificate III or IV. They are available to eligible students who:
• are receiving a specified Australian Government benefit or allowance at the time of their enrolment (e.g. age pension, carer payment, Newstart allowance, Veterans' Affairs pension, single parenting payment or youth allowance)
• meet the Smart and Skilled disability criteria, for a second or further course in a calendar year (proof of a disability support pension or documentary evidence from an appropriate medical professional is required)
• are the dependants of disability support pension recipients, undertaking a second or further course in a calendar year.
No concession fees are available for Diploma and Advanced Diploma students, who are able to access Australian Government VET FEE-HELP loans to pay their fees. For more information, please go to the Student loans page.
A separate page for Students with Disabilities, which can be found here, notes:
Exemption or concession?
Eligible students with disabilities who qualify for an exemption, or eligible students who are the dependants of Disability Support Pension recipients, do not pay fees for the first Smart and Skilled course they undertake in a calendar year. A concession fee applies for any other qualifications (up to and including Certificate IV) undertaken in the same year. Please note: concession fees do not apply for Diplomas and Advance Diplomas. Student loans are available for these higher-level qualifications.
It is evident there are very serious inconsistencies and major confusion with this policy. There are many courses that are not listed on the Smart and Skilled website and as a result would not attract a fee exemption or concession fee.  For example the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is not listed as a "Smart and Skilled" course.  The Smart and Skilled website indicates that "Smart and Skilled is a reform of the NSW Vocational Education and Training (VET) system." That reform was made last year by the NSW Liberal Government without serious consultation with key stakeholders.

Compare last year's 2014 concession application which can be found here with this year's 2015 concession application which can be found here. The 2015 form clearly indicates the following: "Concessions are only available to learners who meet the eligibility requirements under Smart & Skilled and for enrolment in qualifications up to including Certificate IV."  Compare that to last year's 2014 concession application where there were no such limitations.

Mr Piccoli's comments last year that disabled students would be no worse off in the new TAFE reforms is factually incorrect.  Disabled students, to include disabled veteran students, are in fact worse off by the NSW Liberal Government's new educational policies and the reforms of the TAFE system.

With the State election looming in March it will be most interesting to see how NSW lawmakers address this issue.