Comment by Jen Bahen, Director, International Engagement

Comment by Jen Bahen, Director, International Engagement

With Craig currently tending to his garden and in my final week at TDA I was asked to take over his column and reflect on all things international.
That also means no stories, no analogies, no poems and no April Fool’s Day jokes…

…..or does it?  (It’s nigh on impossible to work for Craig without learning a little.)



As I step aside to welcome a little Bahen in a few short weeks, it’s inevitable I will spend some time on the couch watching Christmas movies old and new, and that one of those will be A Christmas Carol. 

Dystopian Dickens feels a good fit for where we sit, right now, across VET and particularly in the area of international engagement, as we stand poised to either jump aboard new opportunities, or continue the path of the past.  So here goes, with sincere apologies to Charles Dickens.

The Ghost of International Education Past

Recent years have witnessed incredible success stories in international engagement, albeit largely focussed on university reform. Meanwhile, partner countries pursued reform in their education systems, with initiatives such as the Australia Chongqing Vocational Education and Training project showing the rest of the world Australia’s ability to support large scale VET reform offshore.  TAFEs were leaders in this, and became postmasters in delivering Australian programs offshore, with partnerships lasting to this day.

We are also shown the significant growth in international student numbers in Australia, and are reminded of the perfect storm of 2009/2010, led by the Indian VET student crisis, and we ask ourselves – what have we learnt?

The Ghost of International Education Present

On the surface, we see a healthy picture, with strong growth in international VET students in Australia and good activity in offshore delivery.

But can we see the risks?

There is a concentration of growth in international students in VET, centred around a small number of nationalities, courses and providers.  Are we sure this growth is sustainable?  We also see that TAFEs lead in relation to diversity of course and nationality but operate within a very small subset of students.

Offshore, partner countries are refocussing, with leaders in China, Indonesia, India etc leading progressive, whole of system reform agendas in VET.  We can see that this gives rise to significant opportunities to support reform with innovative partnerships and products, but are we too wedded to promoting adoption of the Australian system, including AQF qualifications, to see the opportunity to lead?

A scan of TAFE activity shows a change – capacity development projects, programs designed to meet partner needs, and training in partnership with industry – can we build on this?

The Ghost of International Education Yet to Come

Like the choices faced by Ebenezer Scrooge, we’re now presented with two possible future scenarios.

The first is as bleak as Scrooge’s lonely Christmas Day – offshore, we will be left behind, as we doggedly cling to promotion of the Australian system, including qualifications designed for Australian industry, causing our partner countries to look elsewhere.  Similarly, genuine students seeking high quality VET experiences consider their other options.

The second is considerably more optimistic – offshore, we have grasped the opportunity to promote our strengths, rather than our systems, that truly support the incredible reform of partner countries, capitalising on the initiatives TAFEs are already exploring.  International students are drawn to Australia to acquire high quality skills in a diverse set of industry sectors and can confidently take those skills back to a global setting.

The Happy Ending……..

With Christmas fast approaching, what lesson will we take? One thing that stands out to me across the journey is that TAFEs have led.  In a domestic setting, TAFEs are recognised as anchor institutions in communities – so they too can be, and already are, the anchor institutions of international education.

A Final Note

To the TDA Board, TAFE Executives and all the TAFE staff and students (especially those in international offices) I have worked with – the work you do is awe inspiring and I thank you for being given the privilege to represent you.  I look forward to working with you all again when I take up the education role in our embassy in Hanoi sometime in the middle of 2020.

To the outstanding team at TDA, led so very capably by Craig, keep fighting the good fight, for it is indeed a fight for good.  You will all be pleased to know Craig will be back next week!

TAFE turns on a blistering display at national training awards  

TAFE students, teachers and staff dominated the Australian Training Awards held in Brisbane on Thursday night, taking out top places in the major awards.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Wayne Collyer, the former MD of Polytechnic West (now South Metropolitan TAFE) and Central West College of TAFE (now Central Regional TAFE).

A former TDA board member, Wayne has devoted more than 40 years as an educator with most of that in the West Australian VET sector.

The judges said he “has made a difference to the future of hundreds of thousands of students”.

The Industry Collaboration Award went to Holmesglen Institute and the Royal Children’s Hospital for creating “an enriching pathway to employment for young people with disability”.

“Australia’s first Integrated Practical Placement Program is an innovative model combining industry, education and support services,” the  judges said.

TAFE Queensland was named the International Training Provider of the Year.

TAFE Queensland CEO Mary Campbell said the award showcases TAFE Queensland’s commitment and capability to change lives all around the world.

“We’ve dedicated resources to developing business with governments and enterprises across the globe and recruit international students from over 90 countries, resulting in great benefits for Queensland,” she said.

TAFE Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mary Campbell and International Executive Director Janelle Chapman.

The Large Training Provider of the Year went to Sunraysia Institute of TAFE, with judges noting its remarkable 95% completion rates, strong job outcomes and the highest number of new enrolments in Victoria in 2018.

The Apprentice of the Year was Rory Milner a former engineer who switched to a Certificate III in Carpentry with builder Sunbuild, studying at Charles Darwin University.

“In 2018 alone, Rory had the humble honour of being named Master Builders Australia National Apprentice of the Year, Master Builders Australia NT Overall Apprentice of the Year, and the Master Builders Australia NT General Building and Construction Apprentice of the Year,” the judges said.

One of the most remarkable stories was that of Vocational Student of the Year, Shaona Imaru, one of ten children born in a refugee camp in Tanzania before moving to Australia as an 11-year old speaking no English. Shaona studied a Certificate III in Health Services Assistance through TAFE SA and was offered employment with Uniting SA. She has now enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing.

The Runner-up for Vocational Student of the Year was Kristy McDermott who took on the dual Diploma of Landscape Design, Diploma of Horticulture at TAFE Queensland.

There was another prize for Charles Darwin University with Jack Short the Runner-up in the Trainee of the Year Award. Jack studied his Certificate III in Information, Digital Media and Technology – something he took on alongside his Year 12 studies while at school.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year Award went to Taylor Williams, a Wiradjuri woman from Forbes in NSW, who works with a team who are fostering cultural and behavioural change at the Department of Defence.  Taylor undertook a Diploma of Government with Canberra Institute of Technology.

The Gordon had success with the Runner-up in the Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year Award with Heidi Rasmussen who did a Certificate III in Companion Animal Services on her way to fulfilling an ambition to be a vet.

The Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award went to Debra Guntrip from TasTAFE. Debra is a literary specialist who has been working in the LLN field for more han 20 years and is engaged in the delivery of LLN skills to employees through 26TEN, a network of organisations and individuals working together to improve adult literacy and numeracy in Tasmania.

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners at the awards – each one of you should be enormously proud of what you have achieved!

And, a special shout-out to all the TAFE students, teachers and staff who have excelled – you show extraordinary commitment and ability – all the more remarkable for TAFE comprising a meagre 19% of the VET sector, or so we are told!

See all the finalists and winners.

Emeritus Professor Tracey Horton appointed new head of AISC

The federal government has appointed Emeritus Professor Tracey Horton, pictured, as the new chair of the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC).

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash said Ms Horton brings a wealth of experience from a range of government and not-for-profit boards. She replaces Professor John Pollaers in the role.

Professor Horton is the former chair of Navitas and a former member of the Council for International Education. She is a director of property group, GPT, technology firm, Nearmap, and the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She is also a commissioner of the Tourism Commission of Western Australia and a member of the Australian government Takeovers Panel and Bain & Company WA Advisory Board.

Senator Cash said the AISC will work with government and industry stakeholders to support the reforms announced in the last federal budget.

COAG agrees to immediate overhaul of training packages, VET student loans

Federal, state and territory skills ministers have agreed to an immediate overhaul of training packages and a review of VET student loans.

The COAG Industry and Skills Council meeting in Brisbane on Friday agreed to “immediately fast track” the measures and to also examine the use of micro-credentials and the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA) shift from compliance to “excellence in training”.

Training packages will be “streamlined” to remove all outdated and unused qualifications.

The system of VET student loans will be reviewed to ensure “parity of access for students across Australia”.

“Council particularly noted that actions agreed to were in response to feedback from stakeholders about where urgent reform is needed,” the COAG Communique said.

“Council directed the Australian Industry and Skills Council (AISC) and skills officials to develop criteria for commissioning new or updated training products and to establish clear timeframes for accelerated training product development before the next Council meeting,” it said.

See the Communique.

New head of VET at RMIT

Education and health leader Mish Eastman has joined RMIT as Pro Vice-Chancellor Vocational Education.

Mish began her career as a nurse before moving into education and leadership roles with TAFE Tasmania and the Tasmanian Polytechnic.

Most recently, she was Executive Director Pathways and Vocational Education at Swinburne University of Technology.

Vice-Chancellor and President Martin Bean said the appointment is part of RMIT’s vision to create a united VE community that can lead innovative, internationally-recognised teaching practice.

“Mish has diverse experience in leading through complexity, across both tertiary education and health environments,” he said.

“She has strong expertise in identifying and creating new models of education and training in collaboration with industry, enhancing tertiary pathways, and understanding how to create educational and employment success for learners.”

He said RMIT is exploring the creation of a new College of Vocational Education in what will be its biggest commitment yet to the long-term success and growth of the sector.

Chisholm confirms Stephen Varty as CEO

Stephen Varty has been appointed as the new CEO and Director of Chisholm Institute, following an extensive search and selection process.

Chair Stephen Marks announced that Mr Varty will formally commence immediately after serving as interim CEO for the past ten months and leading Chisholm through a number of new initiatives that have produced outstanding results.

“These have included the completion of the Frankston Learning and Innovation Precinct which was launched by the Premier in October, a number of new fee for service and international off-shore opportunities, and a number high profile projects for the TAFE sector that were awarded by the Department of Education and Training,” Mr Marks said.

Stephen has been with Chisholm for the past five years and has held a number of positions including Chief of Education, Executive Director Youth, Pathways and Regional Education and Director of Educational Innovation at Chisholm.

Productivity Commission looking to level the playing field between uni and VET

The Productivity Commission is asking for input into its review of the VET system including ways of achieving greater fairness in funding and loan arrangements between the VET and university.

An issues paper released by the Commission notes that the funding arrangements have led to a view that “universities are expanding at the expense of participation in VET”.

“Compared with VET students, university students have access to more generous financing arrangements,” the discussion paper says.

“Universities also have ‘self-accreditation’ status (that is, they can evaluate their own courses to ensure qualification standards are met) and greater control over course content. In contrast, VET RTOs are required to use regulator-approved training packages and accredited courses,” it says.

“In the past, the NCVER has pointed to this as a potential competitive advantage for universities offering courses that are traditionally in the VET domain (Moodie 2011).”

It asks for evidence of how funding is affecting student choices and options for achieving “greater consistency in funding and loan arrangements between the VET and higher education sectors”.

The Commission will deliver an interim report in March and a final report within a year.

See the issues paper or make a submission.

TAFE Queensland's Andrew Holmes recognised for expert analysis

TDA has extended its appreciation to Andrew Holmes, the Director of Finance and Performance at TAFE Queensland for his outstanding contribution during upheaval in the VET sector following the collapse of a private training college in Brisbane.

Andrew was presented with an award of appreciation by TDA Chair Mary Faraone and CEO Craig Robertson at the recent TDA Convention.

Andrew was called upon to assist TDA and TAFE Queensland following the college collapse in December 2017, affecting some 16,000 students.

“Andrew’s data and analytical skills were a key part in TDA and TAFEs being able to assist thousands of displaced private provider students continuing their studies with a TAFE and mounting our case to the government,” Craig Robertson said.

“Andrew, you are a great credit to TAFE Queensland, a great credit to TAFEs across Australia.”

Award of appreciation: Mary Faraone, Andrew Holmes and Craig Robertson

Call for 'No Frills' 2020 presentations

NCVER has issued a call for submissions to present at the 29th National VET Research Conference ‘No Frills’.

‘No Frills’ 2020 will be co-hosted with TAFE WA – North Metropolitan TAFE in Perth from 8-10 July 2020.

NCVER is seeking presentations that explore the theme Workforce ready: challenges and opportunities for VET.

Submissions are invited from all parts of the VET sector, including industry, government, practitioners, peak bodies, and researchers.

Submissions are open until Monday, 17 February 2020. Learn more about presentation guidelines and how to submit.

Call for proposals for Canadian colleges annual conference

Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) has issued a call for proposals for its annual conference being held 3 – 5 May 2020 in Montreal, Quebec.

CICan’s annual conference is the largest event of its kind in Canada. It fosters connections between post-secondary institutions from across the country and around the world through discussions and the sharing of best practices.

The Conference will be organisesd into six streams, including: Governing Excellence, Wiring for Student Success, Hacking Education, Embodying Sustainability, Driving Innovation, and Going Global. Indigenous education and inclusion are cross-cutting topics.

All sessions should reflect on opportunities or lessons learned for the future of the college and institute system. Proposals should be submitted by December 8.

Selection criteria and recommendations for preparing a successful proposal are available here.

Diary Dates

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9 – 10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information

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 opening soon

‘No Frills’ 2020, 29th National VET Research Conference
NCVER co-hosted with TAFE WA, North Metropolitan TAFE
8 – 10 July 2020
Perth, Western Australia
More information