TAFE Response to COVID -19 

Capability to succeed – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Capability to succeed – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The following is a copy of a column I wrote for the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) in its August Dispatch. TDA is a member of the federation which seeks to promote advancement in TVET.

Two important reports, among many, were released this past month that tell a story – from two different angles – of the challenge for professional and technical education and training around the globe.

Worsening economic and employment conditions are forecast for the world by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and South African researchers point to new theories of vocational education as the source of economic empowerment of students[1].

The contraction of the world economy worsened by 1.9 percentage points between the April and June economic outlooks taking the growth (contraction) to -4.9 per cent. Decline in economic activity across the globe deepened, self-evident from the news broadcasts of the devastating impacts of COVID-19 in our most populous nations.

The public health crisis is having a heavier impact in parts of society and the world. The hit is most pronounced for low-income workers, with women among low-income workers bearing the larger brunt of the impact.

The IMF includes International Labour Organisation estimates that the decline in working hours between the first quarters of 2019 and 2020 is equivalent to 130 million full-time jobs. And for the almost 2 billion people engaged in informal economic activity around the globe about 80 per cent have been significantly affected.

The IMF worries that this rapid economic deterioration across the world, a retreat to national self-sufficiency and increasing trade tensions could reverse gains made over the last 40 years that has brought the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty to less than 10 per cent (from 35 per cent in 1990).

Circumstances for these people conspire to bring this disadvantage. A new perspective on vocational education outlined in the June edition of the Journal of Vocational Education and Training explores theoretical developments over the past decade into the capabilities approach.

Capabilities may hold the clue to inclusive recovery from COVID. The approach is founded on the principles developed by Amartya Sen whose seminal work Development as Freedom (1999) underpins the Global Development Goals. Put simply, Sen argues that development is built more on giving freedoms to individuals to act, rather than traditional economic measures. Without freedoms, the advancement of individuals is constrained and masked by national economic measures of advancement.

Modern vocational education theory is mainly couched in a human capital perspective. It treats the person as an individual economic unit of value of utility for the labour market.

Neo-liberal economic philosophy spills over into education systems. Here in Australia, for example, ‘regulated’ vocational learning is framed in the context of work. As a result, vocational education is often reduced to the most efficient means for transitioning someone to a job. Efficient training for a job is appealing in policy terms but it often forgets the poor wages and conditions in which graduates can be trapped.

We often relegate our thinking on development to emerging economies and the constraints poverty has on access to education, along with other unfreedoms such as cultural constraints on the role of women. Certainly, these are more pronounced in these countries and will now be deeper in a post-COVID world.

Capability seeks to broaden the mission of vocational education to build agency.

The article sites work in the occupied Palestinian territories where women face mobility restrictions and constraints from gender norms. The ‘majority of female VET graduates … surveyed reported that VET had enabled them to achieve empowerment through enhancing their self-confidence; their ability to contribute to the surroundings and challenge gender-norms.’ A study in England found that ‘young women use education to gain freedom from negative circumstances such as abusive relationships, precarious low paid work and mental health problems, which are often experienced simultaneously.’

The IMF calls for the return of global trade and warns against national self-reliance as it is our connected world of production and trade which has opened doors for the poor in the world to paid work. The merits of trade is contested. There has been exploitation so the West can purchase cheap goods and services and communities in the West have complained that their jobs have been lost to other parts of the world.

Order in the world will take some time to restore and it is unlikely to settle the same way. This gives us time to pause and reconceptualise vocational education across developed and developing economies.

Framing success for students as jobs sells them short, as the jobs will not be around. The objective for students needs to be capability and agency, the confidence to unshackle from the constraints they face and to grasp freedom to pursue a destiny of economic independence.

Read the rest of Dispatch for stories of TVET leadership during COVID-19 and subscribe at the same time.


[1] McGrath, S et al, New VET Theories for new times: the critical capabilities approach to vocational education and training and its potential for theorising a transformed and transformational VET, Journal of Vocational Education and Training

TAFE should anchor the economic recovery, Centre for Future Work says

Australia’s TAFE system generated economic benefits worth $92.5 billion to the national economy in 2019, according to new research from the Centre for Future Work.

The report An Investment in Productivity and Inclusion finds despite chronic underfunding and failed market-led VET policies, TAFE produces vast economic and social benefits, 16 times greater than the annual “maintenance” cost Australia currently reinvests in the TAFE system.

The presence and activity of TAFE institutes “anchors” over $6 billion per year in economic activity and 48,000 jobs from the direct operation of the TAFE system and its supply chain.

The TAFE-trained workforce generates $84.9 billion per year in higher incomes and business productivity.

The report says the costs of delivering TAFE are modest – only $5.7 billion per year, or 0.3% of GDP.

“Extra tax revenues received by governments thanks to the superior productivity and incomes of TAFE-trained workers alone are worth $25 billion per year: 4.4 times more than the total costs of running the TAFE system,” it says.

“Major public skills investments will be best coordinated by TAFE institutes as the longest-standing and most reliable ‘anchors’ of vocational training and must be at the centre of an economic reconstruction process,” the report says.

High profile Australians rally for National TAFE Day

A host of prominent Australians have spoken out in support of TAFE as part of the celebration of National TAFE Day, last Thursday.

The speakers included author and columnist Jane Caro, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, South Sudan refugee Akolda Bil, Centre for Future Work Director Dr Jim Stanford, the Country Women’s Association’s Tanya Cameron, academic Professor Leesa Wheelahan, AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe, and TDA CEO Craig Robertson.

It also included immunologist and Nobel Laureate, Professor Peter Doherty, pictured, who stressed the importance of a system that enables learning and advancement not available elsewhere.

“Public TAFE, to me, is just one of the most important educational sectors in the country.

“It needs to be available to everyone who has the opportunity to get a trade and follow through and become a fully paid up and extremely useful member of society,” Professor Doherty said.

Craig Robertson said the current crisis should cause us to rethink the TAFE system, describing it as “a vital cog that keeps industry going, an institution geared to student success, and a lighthouse that signals to the community the path of learning to success in life.”

See all the speakers

TAFE NSW MD takes to the classroom 

TAFE NSW Managing Director Steffen Faurby is well and truly immersing himself in the teaching experience, undertaking study to become a course trainer.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he says the aim of the training is to get a view from the coalface of the organisations he leads.

The hands-on approach saw him obtain a bus driver’s licence when he ran the NSW State Transit Authority, and work on board with deck crew at Sydney Ferries.

“It’s to really understand what we do at the frontline,” he said.

“I did things that would allow me to understand what it’s like to work for the organisation I lead.”

“There’s always a risk when you move into more senior leadership positions that you can become disconnected from the day-to-day operations of your business.”

He explains that since the coronavirus pandemic hit, his main focus has been putting hundreds of TAFE courses online, while training 5000 teachers and VET instructors in how to make the rapid transition.

He also discusses the work TAFE NSW is doing to create a bridge between university, schools and VET, towards a single qualification.

ASQA sees online training as a key area of risk

Online learning in the VET sector and VET-in-schools will be two of the important areas of focus for the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) over the next two years.

ASQA’s Regulatory Strategy 2020-22 says that there has been a strong response from stakeholders to the way providers have adapted to the online environment.

However, it says there are concerns that not all providers have the skills and capability to deliver high quality training online, and that some employers may regard online training as sub-standard.

ASQA is also liaising with state and territory regulators over VET-in-schools, following a number of reports that have raised questions about quality, industry relevance and employer engagement.

There is also a focus on a number of training products that ASQA has identified as posing a level of risk that warrants scrutiny.

These are listed as the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, Certificate III in Individual Support, Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery, and Prepare to work safely in the construction industry.

TasTAFE roadmap traces path out of the pandemic

The Tasmanian government has reaffirmed its commitment to TasTAFE in dealing with the post-COVID-19 recovery, following the release of TasTAFE’s 2020-23 Corporate Plan.

The Minister for Education and Training Jeremy Rockliff said the plan shows TasTAFE is being proactive in planning its future and has a clear path to address the impact of the pandemic on VET.

In the report, TasTAFE says that the next twelve months will see increased demand for training with less capacity for students to pay.

“The commercial and international student markets will also be weak while the demand for courses from individuals on concession is likely to be strong,” the plan says.

“It is expected that COVID-19 will continue to have an impact particularly regarding TasTAFE’s commercial and international growth targets.”

“Locally TasTAFE will play a vital role as Tasmania, and our nation, recover from COVID-19, by providing the vocational education and training necessary to equip job seekers in the new economy,” it says.

Mr Rockliff said that the government is planning a major campaign later this year to encourage more Tasmanians to consider a vocational career.

'Systematic bias' plagues UK's COVID-affected final school results

The COVID-forced cancellation of UK school exams has led to chaos in the final gradings for senior students hoping to gain entry to university, commence apprenticeships and start jobs.

The furore stems from a decision by the regulator, Ofqual, to use an algorithm to moderate teacher-assessed marks to determine students’ final scores.

In England, 36% of entries had a lower grade than teachers predicted, with claims that students from disadvantaged backgrounds suffered the largest downgrades.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said a number of colleges had reported that more than half of their school-assessment grades had been adjusted downwards following moderation.

In a letter to the Secretary for Education and Ofqual, he is calling for an urgent technical review to address worrying inconsistencies in the results.

“It would appear that the standardisation process may have been biased against larger centres and those with high value-added scores,” he says.

He acknowledges that the pandemic has made it an exceptional year in coming up with an alternative to exams.

“But we cannot stand by when the evidence suggests that many thousands of students may have missed out on their grades because of a systemic bias.”

The Department of Education has sought to explain the moderation process.

Free webinar to discuss UN sustainability goals and VET

The World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) has launched a series of free webinars devoted to the topical issues affecting professional and technical education and training, international exchange, and global education around the world.

A free webinar on August 27 will hear panelists from Canada, Kenya, and Senegal and will discuss how to integrate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the TVET sector.

Register for ‘Emerging best practices to embed the SDGs in the TVET sector to build back better’ hosted on August 27 at 8:30 am EST (Ottawa time). Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) will host the webinar.

Diary Dates

AVETRA 2020 Researcher Development Series
Webinars designed for early career, emerging and practitioner researchers
June 2020 – March 2021
More information

National Skills Week
24 – 30 August 2020
Various locations
More information 

TAFE NSW Virtual Open Day 2020
9 – 10 September 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
19 & 20 November 2020
Registrations Open

Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
Melbourne
More information

TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2021
29 – 30 April 2021
Westin Hotel, Perth
More information coming soon

Worldskills Australia
28 April – 2 May 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information

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