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Breaking down barriers to learning

A landmark inquiry is set to hear from Victorians with disability about their barriers to participating in Technical and Further Education (TAFE).

The review is the first of its kind by a Victorian parliamentary committee, focusing specifically on access by people with disability to TAFE.

Legislative Assembly Economy and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Eren says they want to hear from people with disability about their experiences.

“This includes current and former TAFE students, but also people with disability who are thinking about going to TAFE, or who had thought about it and either decided against it or found enrolling too hard,” he said.

“We also want to hear from teachers, TAFE institutes, parents and support groups that have experience working with people with disability.”

There are about 4.4 million Australians with disability and almost a third have a profound or severe impediment.

Indigenous Australians are almost twice as likely to have disability as non-Indigenous Australians.

As of 2018, the number of Australians with disability aged over 20 who had completed Year 12 and/or held a bachelor’s degree or above was roughly half the number of those without disability.

In addition, just over half of all people with disability of working age were participating in the labour force, well down on the 83 per cent of Australians without disability.

“We know that Australians with disability have lower Year 12 completion and employment rates than Australians without disability,” Mr Eren said.

“This suggests that people with disability face barriers to continuing their education and finding work. We want to find out what these barriers are and develop some solutions to ensure all students, of any ability, can access TAFE and successfully participate and complete their courses.”

Disability was identified as one of several key factors contributing to poor access to education in a recent report on sustainable employment for disadvantaged jobseekers.

The Economy and Infrastructure Committee found this complicated the task of searching for a job in the long term, especially during a weak labour market.

Deputy Chair Gary Blackwood said there is renewed interest in the role of vocational education in the wake of the COVID-19 downturn.

“We need to develop the skills we need to boost jobs and rebuild the economy,” he said.

“This inquiry will help ensure that people with disability are included in government strategies to increase TAFE participation.”

Current policies and practices will go under the microscope, as well as the training and guidance provided to staff and the level of awareness students have about their ability to access available services.

Mr Blackwood said one of the issues they are particularly interested in is the types of training and support TAFE teachers need to better assist students with disability.

“We will also look at programs and strategies used in TAFEs across Victoria as well as interstate to identify what works well and where current practice can be improved,” he said.

The introduction of free TAFE courses in Victoria has been attributed to a doubling of enrolments by learners with disability in just a 12-month period.

In 2019, just over 10 per cent of students enrolled in free TAFE courses reported having a disability, compared to six and a half per cent of students enrolled in TAFE courses with fees.

Other key issues for the inquiry include pathways to employment for people with disability and the role of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in supporting learners with disability to access TAFE.

Further improvements to enrolment processes, technology and equipment to assist with learning needs, the provision of ongoing support to complete courses and targeted or personalised funding models will also be on the table.

“We hope the evidence from the inquiry will guide us to make recommendations that maximise the learning experience for TAFE students with disability,” Mr Eren said.

“Improving access to TAFE for people with disability will create more opportunities for them to develop the skills they need to enter the workforce. We hope our recommendations will not only improve TAFE completion rates for people with disability but also increase their employment rates.”

In Victoria there are 12 publicly owned TAFEs as well as four dual-sector universities that provide TAFE courses in addition to higher education.

Mr Blackwood said COVID-19 has placed some limitations on how the inquiry is conducted.

“The Committee is accepting submissions from community members until 16 October 2020,” he said.

“After reviewing the submissions, the Committee will invite people to appear at public hearings where Committee members will ask questions and further explore the issues raised in submissions.

“We will hold several public hearings later this year. To comply with social distancing measures, we will conduct hearings via Zoom.

"Following the public hearings, the Committee will consider the evidence received and prepare a report with recommendations that we expect to table in Parliament in mid-2021.”

To find out more go to the Committee’s website: parliament.vic.gov.au/TAFEaccessinquiry

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