MEAA criticises government’s VET student loan reform
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has hit back at the Federal Government’s new VET student loan scheme, arguing that making acting courses ineligible for support puts at risk “the next wave” of Australian actors.
As part of its push to overhaul the controversy-ridden vocational sector, earlier this month the government announced the new VET Student Loans program. It is set to replace the present VET FEE-HELP loan scheme that was established under Labor.
Under the VET Student Loans program, 347 courses are expected to attract funding support. Currently, more than 800 courses receive support under the VET FEE-HELP scheme.
In a statement, the MEAA expressed concerns that among the courses set to have their funding support discontinued are those that provide professional training for stage, television and film performers, and that only 12 courses in the screen, music, media and design areas look like maintaining funding eligibility.
The union said it was dismayed that the decision had gone ahead without industry consultation.
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham has stated that the decision as to what courses were to receive support under the program had been informed by state and territory skill needs lists and areas of national economic need, such as STEM and agriculture.
The minister said that the current VET FEE-HELP scheme saw too many courses subsidised that were “used simply to boost enrolments, or provide ‘lifestyle’ choices, but don’t lead to work.”
Students will still be able to do these courses if institutions offer them, but will no longer be able to receive a government-funded loan to complete them.
MEAA Equity director Zoe Angus said that while the union accepted that steps were needed to rid the VET sector of “fee-gouging operators and sub-standard courses”, it was concerned that long-running, credible courses would be abandoned in the name of efficiency and convenience.
“Accreditation and fee-help eligibility has broadened the socio-economic and ethnic mix of the new generation of Australian actors,” Angus said.
“They have attracted incredibly talented students who have not been able to access bachelor programs.”
Further, the union has argued that removing courses for performers is at odds with planned retention of ‘behind camera’ courses and could lead to a distortion of qualified employees in the future.
“The Diploma of Screen Acting and courses like it conform to industry best-practice. They are well-governed and have strong links with industry,” said Angus.
“Although these are not STEM courses, diplomas for performers fit the revised criteria for eligibility to a tee. Their continuation should not be threatened by a prejudice towards cultural industries.”
The government has said it will consult with stakeholders to finalise the course list before it is tabled in parliament to ensure opportunity for the courses that had been “knocked off the list to be added back in”, provided that they could demonstrate strong employment outcomes.
More information about what courses are eligble for funding support under the VET Student Loans program is available here: https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/161010_eligible_course_list_fact_sheet.pdf