New data released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) calls into question the impact of Labor’s central skills policy, ‘Fee Free TAFE.’ This new data poses very real questions about the true number of Australians actually benefiting from the policy and whether it is making any meaningful difference in skills shortages.

According to the recently released NCVER Report Government-funded students and courses January to September 2023 the number of students taking up a government-funded course or qualification has increased by just 18,420 in 2023 compared with 2022 not by 300,000. This means Labor’s signature skills policy Fee Free TAFE – introduced in 2023 – has only increased the number of students undertaking a government-funded course or qualification by 1.7 per cent.

Labor has sought to highlight over 300,000 enrolments in Fee Free TAFE as a proof point that their skills policies are making an impact across the economy, but this new government data has brought the credibility of those claims into question.

Rather than delivering 300,000 new courses for new students as the Australian people have been led to believe, it appears the vast bulk of enrolments have been in pre-existing state-funded courses and as a result there has been no significant increase in the number of Australians taking up a trade or qualification thanks to Fee Free TAFE.

When compared with the same period in 2021, during which the Coalition’s JobTrainer policy was in full effect, Labor’s Fee Free TAFE has in fact overseen a drop of more than 50,000 government funded students. This means the government’s own data shows less Australians are taking up government funded courses in 2023 under Labor than in 2021 under the Liberals.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Skills and Training, Sussan Ley said there was a growing gap between expectation and delivery when it came to Labor’s skills policies.

“As skills shortages continue to hit our economy hard impacting activity across the board Fee Free TAFE has not generated any substantial increase in the number of Australians taking up training. We are concerned that under Labor, it appears that Commonwealth skills funding is merely subsidising State budgets instead of having a meaningful impact on skills shortages by funding new students.

“Despite all of Labor’s grand promises to ‘skill more Australians’, the data demonstrates their policies just aren’t working, Fee Free TAFE is just not adding substantial numbers of new students as we have been led to believe.”

Today’s data follows revelations that the number of apprentices and trainees taking up skills and training is collapsing across the country with NCVER previously confirming that there are 50,000 less apprentices and trainees in-training than when Labor took office in May 2022.

NCVER also found new training starts have dropped by 40 per cent with 110,000 less Australians enrolling in a new qualification, taking up a trade or a training course.