Bad and good contagion – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Bad and good contagion – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

C’mon, fess up. This past weekend did you put a few more packs of paper for the toot in the trolley?

For our overseas readers, one of the more bizarre sidebars from COVID-19 in Australia is a rush on toilet paper, and some stocking up on food. Us Australians must care more about the end of the digestive experience than the beginning!

It’s a curious phenomenon, something that Professor Robert Frank of Cornell University, New York calls behavioural contagion.

We’ve seen evidence of it in public health. The Quit campaign and taxes have seen the proportion of Australians who smoke drop markedly. Frank contends that it is more that fewer smokers in society remove the pressure on others to take it up.

We’ve all stayed in hotels which ask us to use the towels over several days. An experiment shows that guests comply if the message says something like …’over 8 in 10 use their towels over several days’ Peer pressure endures even after our adolescence.

It’s curious to think of this in the context of vocational education and training. We know that the rate of school leavers entering university has grown rapidly as the graph from the Grattan Institute shows. The participation rate of young people into VET is a different, and sad, story. No one decries student choice and if they can get into a university, why not? The issue is whether a herd mentality has resulted in a university-only or work-only choice for school leavers.

The role of Scott Cam as the National Careers Ambassador on this very issue was scrutinised in Senate Estimates this past week. Labor senators questioned the benefit to the sector from his generous contract as he has been practically invisible, particularly if measured in media personality terms.

Minister Cash laid out plans for his engagement, including that he will host the 2020 Australian Training Awards – the Logies of VET!

Whether Scott’s interventions will work is still to be played out but Minister Cash did make the valuable point that he has been engaged as an influencer (a new fandangle occupation that training packages haven’t uncovered yet), but in today’s celebrity culture is a thing – they can start a contagion.

A contagion can work both ways – either reducing smoking or raids on dunny paper. I’ve often wondered how the VET FEE-HELP rort spread so far and wide so quickly – my calculations of Government loans to dodgy providers was about $1.5bn between 2014-16, or about $1.37 million per day over those three years. Now, that’s a contagion!

We also had during the heady market days of VET pressure on providers of good standing to cut corners, simply to survive as they saw students switch to other providers on the lure of swish marketing and low effort qualifications. Many good providers now face the wrath of the regulator as a result, according to some. How fair is hard to discern but as Assistant Minister Steve Irons says, many are small businesses which have been built up over time and it is hard for an owner to see it crumble over what may be minor indiscretions.

COVID 19 has popped up in unexpected places. A contagion for good or bad can do the same. I suspect that the fall-out from the market days is still being felt. You get that feeling from the VET Roadmap where every button is trying to be pushed, except possibly working with TAFEs and providers.

TAFEs for their part are up for the journey. TAFEs hosted parliamentarians at the second TAFE Meets Parliament event. We thank the Shadow Minister for Education and Training, the Hon Tanya Plibersek and the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, the Hon Steve Irons for addressing the crowd. CEOs and VCs of dual sector members of TDA came together in a demonstration of a joined up tertiary sector. They were able to meet their local representatives and TAFE capability was on display thanks to Canberra Institute of Technology.

Talking of the Roadmap, CEOs met the next day and committed to work with all ministers on pursuing the priorities.

Cash and Cam Pty Ltd may play a role in bringing students back to VET. I reckon a network of strong TAFEs, which we know communities trust, is a good place to start a positive contagion.

Careers ambassador Scott Cam to step out at TAFE

Skills Minister Senator Michaelia Cash will accompany national careers ambassador Scott Cam at TAFE this week in his first public appearance since the position was announced last October.

Appearing at Senate Estimates, Senator Cash said the careers ambassador would be attending eight state-based events as well as hosting the national training awards in Melbourne in November.

Officials from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said Mr Cam had, so far, appeared in three videos and made a number of social posts, as well as appearing on the National Career Institute’s e-hub.

On Saturday, Mr Cam hit back at claims that he was “getting paid and doing no work”, saying that much of his focus has been on a careers portal yet to launch.

“I do think it’s unfair. There are a lot of falsehoods … that I’m getting paid and doing no work,” Mr Cam told 9News of the media criticism.

“The (careers) portal isn’t ready until July. They just launched it and now I’m going to work towards the July date. There’s not much that happens over summer when people are on a break… it’s a waste of resources for me to be spruiking… it always has been locked in for more events to start as of next Tuesday,” he said.

NSW VET review to examine the place of microcredentials

The NSW government’s review of the VET system will look at better integration across secondary and tertiary education, as well as the place of microcredentials in the training product mix.

The terms of reference for the NSW VET review show that the government is seeking to arrest the decline in VET participation and boost the unacceptably low completion rate.

“From 2001 to 2017, participation in VET declined steadily. Those students who do participate are failing to complete their course at a rate of 47.5%,” the review website says.

The inquiry will also examine current skills shortages, “with consideration given to ensuring the NSW Skills List is forward looking, the speed of design and delivery of courses, and flexibility.”

The review by Mr David Gonski and Professor Peter Shergold will report back by July.

FOI document shows $725m in private college student debt wiped

Six private training colleges account for the vast bulk of close to a billion dollars in student debts that have been wiped by the Commonwealth, flowing from the failed VET FEE-HELP program.

A document released by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment under freedom of information shows the value of student debt cancelled by the department, broken down by each provider.

It shows that the largest sum of debt cancelled was from Careers Australia at $181 million, followed by Unique International College ($171 million), Franklyn Scholar ($104 million), Cornerstone Investment ($100 million), Asia Pacific Training Institute ($94 million) and Productivity Partners ($75 million).

The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons told an ITECA conference in February that the government had re-credited a total of $885 million to 57,000 former VET FEE-HELP students, and that there was more to come.

Fulbright VET scholarship open

Applications have opened for the Fulbright professional scholarship in vocational education and training.

The scholarship is open to a wide range of people engaged in the VET sector, including teachers, managers, and administrators, of private and public training organisations, but not university academics that study VET.

The scholarship involves undertaking an educational program concerning current VET policy or practice, such as a short course and/or research.

The scholarship was established in 2005, and is now funded by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

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CIT to tackle the problem of trade waste

Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) has joined in a partnership designed to address the growing problem of waste in the trades.

CIT, in partnership with the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) jointly announced 2020 Trade Hack. The four-day event will connect CIT students, apprentices and graduates with employers from the construction, electrical, culinary and hospitality sectors and together look into solving the problem of waste generated from each industry.

“Sustainable solutions to reduce waste is a pressing issue for the trades sector, and we are encouraging our students to apply an innovative, collaborative approach to solving problems to find a creative solution,” CIT CEO Leanne Cover said.

The successful team will have the chance to take part in further CBRIN workshops and innovation programs and will gain financial support from local business Capital Ventures to seed its business idea.

Left to right: CEO Canberra Innovation Network Petr Adamek, CIT CEO Leanne Cover, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and CIT Board Chair Craig Sloan

Design scholarships on offer

The Institute of International Education (IIE) is expanding it’s work with Abobe through a new scholarship – the Adobe Design Circle Scholarships program.

The scholarships will help reach untapped youth communities and foster more diversity in the design industry. The program targets students who want to enter product design or experience design-related careers (e.g. digital, web, UX/UI, industrial design, or similar), with a special emphasis on students from underrepresented communities in the industry.

The scholarship is open to undergraduate-level students from any country. Ten students will be selected to receive up to $25,000 per year for a maximum of four years.

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Diary Dates

Year13 Youth Engagement Summit
19 March 2020
The Venue, Alexandria, Sydney
More information

Youth Futures Summit
20 – 21 April 2020
Melbourne Cricket Ground
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AVETRA Conference
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
14 – 15 May 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Registrations open

2020 VET CEO Conference
Velg Training
15 May 2020
QT Gold Coast Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
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Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT
Annual 2020 Skills Conference
11 June 2020
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National Manufacturing Summit 2020
Manufacturing a Sustainable Future
6 & 7 July 2020
Gold Coast, Queensland
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‘No Frills’ 2020, 29th National VET Research Conference
NCVER co-hosted with TAFE WA, North Metropolitan TAFE
8 – 10 July 2020
Perth, Western Australia
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TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2020
12 – 14 August 2020
Westin Hotel, Perth
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Worldskills Australia
12 – 15 August 2020
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
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National Skills Week
24 – 30 August 2020
Various locations
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2020 National VET Conference
Velg Training
17 – 18 September 2020
Gold Coast Convention and Exhitbiton Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland
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World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
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Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
More information