February 7


Why FREE TAFE is bad for everyone.

By Sarah Fitzgibbon

February 7, 2024

Free TAFE is a load of bullsh*t! And I’m going to tell you why…

  1. It’s not really free, and I’ll show you specific examples.
  2. It de-values the entire vocational education sector.


That’s right – FREE TAFE isn’t really FREE at all.

None of the courses are free.

In fact using the term ‘free course’ is actually very misleading, and is probably against consumer law.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the TAFE websites:

If you’re eligible, the initiative will cover the tuition fees for the duration of your course. You’ll still need to pay for other fees, such as student services fees or materials fees.

If you’re eligible, the initiative will cover the tuition fees for the duration of your course. You’ll still need to pay for other fees, such as student services fees or materials fees.

So, course fees are generally made up of 3 types of ‘fees’.


Course / tuition / enrolment fees – charged as an hourly rate (which is loosely related to how long a subject takes). This varies from course to course. Depending on your circumstances, a large portion of the enrolment fees may be subsidised by the Government for eligible students. For example in Victoria there are 3 categories of funding for students;Free TAFE – $0Government subsidised (apprenticeship and traineeship / Skills First)Government subsidised (Concession)Full fee paying (or NO funding)

This is what you can expect for a Certificate III in Hospitality:

Or a Certificate IV in Kitchen Management:

It’s also important to note that APPRENTICESHIPS LEADING TO TRADE QUALIFICATIONS ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN FREE TAFE (such as the Certificate III in Commercial Cookery). While you can complete the qualification under a Free TAFE arrangement, it is not an apprenticeship, and will not attract employer financial incentives, or the same recognition from employers upon completion.


Then there are generally admin or services fees – this may be called an application fee, student services or support, issuing of certification, amenities, etc.


And there will also be a resource and/or materials fee – this covers the cost of things such as materials, equipment, textbooks, uniform, excursions, printing, and other incidentals. This fee will vary according to the course being undertaken.

Here are some examples;

Offering education for FREE de-values it

And this is probably the more important reason.

When something is offered for free, how much value do you place on it?

Think of say – happy meal toys, free samples, or the free items on FB marketplace?

What would you say they are worth?

Not much right.

If something costs nothing it has no value…

But consider vocational training. Apprenticeships and traineeships, especially those that aren’t directly linked to a trade qualification (such as a chef or plumber).

Courses such as Certificate III in Hospitality, are crucial yet undervalued. The Certificate III in Hospitality trains front of house staff in customer service, food and drink knowledge, working with others, dealing with conflict, and a bunch of other skills that create a better experience for customers, more confidence for the employee, and a better performing business.

Yet, these types of qualifications are already struggling for recognition by industry and employers.

And it is business and industry who should be driving enrolments in these qualifications. Vocational training is for those in employment. Staff in entry level or low-skilled roles particulary should be trained by their employer. It is their responsibility to provide appropriate training for their employees, and foot the bill. Because they benefit from it.  

The government should be educating employers that training is an investment that provides a great ROI to the business, and also their industry at large. They should be building value in vocational training, not undermining it by making it free.

So employers and business owners.

I encourage you to make sure you read the fine print and are aware of ALL fees that apply to any course you are considering.

And also, to check with your Apprenticeship Support Network about how it affects your employer incentives.

And finally, please consider the way you think about training and whether you are contributing to building the perception of its value.

Sarah Fitzgibbon

About the author

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Direct Your Visitors to a Clear Action at the Bottom of the Page