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Half a million vocational students to miss out




AT LEAST half a million young Australians won’t get the chance to develop their skills and get a better job if the government pushes ahead with a planned vocational loans overhaul, the sector warns.

Its also cautioning there could be major job losses if the number of courses eligible for taxpayer-funded loans is slashed as planned.

Private vocational trainers agree reform is needed but will tell senators on Tuesday the proposal before parliament has flaws.

In particular, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training says there was inadequate consultation around the list of courses that will attract loans, which is being cut from 825 to about 350.

This wholesale removal of courses leaves few, if any, options for many students to gain support to obtain qualifications and pursue careers in fields of education that are likely to provide the future of work as Australias services sector economy develops, the council says in its submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the changes.

A ban on subcontracting course delivery without government approval is an extreme invasion into the management practices of business and will result in overwhelming red tape.

Another key feature is capping loans at $5000, $10,000 or $15,000 based on what the government believes delivery costs should be.

Private providers say this is a simplistic tool that will lead to trainers either scrapping expensive courses or cutting quality.

TAFE directors also worry the loan caps will lead to an overall drop in course quality.

The proposed registration criteria for the VET Student Loans Scheme will not necessarily exclude bad providers, who will merely adjust their quality down to the meet the funds on offer, TAFE Directors Australia says in its submission. They want TAFEs exempted from the loan caps and restrictions on eligible courses, arguing their institutions enjoy the same high level of community trust as universities but are given much less autonomy.

TAFE students have not been the cause of the VET FEE-HELP (loan scheme) expenditure blowout nor is there a likelihood of such occurring in the future, the directors say.

The committee inquiry in Melbourne will also hear from the consumer watchdog, the National Tertiary Education Union, the vocational sectors regulator and the federal education department.

Trump disappoints investors market falls




THE share market fell on Thursday as early momentum provided by a higher Australian dollar and commodity prices was overshadowed by negative responses to US President- elect Donald Trump’s first press conference in six months.

Shares rose in morning trade, particularly in the mining sector, after a fall in the US dollar overnight, which helped commodity prices, CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said.

The US dollars fall was linked to Mr Trumps media appearance, in which he failed to provide details on his plans to stimulate the US economy, and spoke about increasing trade barriers.

The Australian dollar is trading around its highest level in nearly a month, and was at 74.69 US cents at 1700 AEDT, up from 73.79 US cents on Wednesday. But the local share market ran out of steam, ending the session about 0.1 per cent weaker.

As the president-elects speech wore on it became clear there was going to be no detail around the much-touted stimulus programs, and markets showed some disappointment, Mr McCarthy said.

The evidence of that is in the performance across the Australian market today. Some stocks in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sector with large exposure to the US market were affected by Mr Trumps accusation that drug makers were getting away with murder with what they charge the government. He also vowed to make changes.

Vaccines and blood products supplier CSL dropped $2.91, or 2.8 per cent, to $100.96, and cancer drugs supplier Mayne Pharma shed 5.5 cents, or 4.1 per cent, to $1.275.

Healthcare was the worst performing sector on the US market at the close. It appears local investors have take similarly dim view of potential changes to healthcare in the US, Mr McCarthy said.

BHP Billiton gained 34 cents to $26.36, Rio Tinto added 59 cents to $62.87 and Fortescue Metals was seven cents higher at $6.30.

The big four banks gave up much of their early gains, with Westpac down three cents at $33.43, ANZ adding four cents to $31.24, Commonwealth Bank up three cents at $85.03 and National Australia Bank 11 cents higher at $31.52. Troubled baby foods supplier Bellamys Australia continued to slide, falling 95 cents, or 17.8 per cent, to $4.40 as some analysts downgraded the stock after the company replaced chief executive Laura McBain and warned of lower annual earnings.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 dropped 4.6 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 5,766.9 points.

* The broader All Ordinaries index dropped 2.1 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 5,821.6 points.

* The March SPI200 futures contract was down one point at 5,728 points, with 26,412 contracts traded.

* National turnover was 2.9 billion securities traded worth $5.2 billion.