Commonwealth for the common good – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Commonwealth for the common good – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Whether it’s planning or luck, the international speakers for this year’s TDA Convention in September in Brisbane present a distinct Commonwealth flavour – England, Canada and New Zealand. Accompanied by a panel of Australian experts, we’ll be ready for our very own Commonwealth Games!

David Hughes, the CEO of the Association of Colleges in England is returning to Australia following high praise for his presentations at the World Congress last October in Melbourne. Since then he has led a hugely successful campaign – Love Our Colleges – which has engaged local politicians and even had marches in the streets. It seems to have paid off. The Augar report, headed by Dr Philip Augar, released by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this year points to the disproportionate focus on higher education at the cost of those needing alternative educational pathways. I count David as one of the leading thinkers in the world on TVET and the intersect with politics. You’ll love his presentation, just as many of you did last October.

Our Canadian speaker hails from George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario. Dr. Rick Huijbregts is Vice-President, Strategy & Innovation and comes to the convention loaded with impressive credentials and experience. Prior to joining George Brown, Rick spent 12 years with Cisco, most recently as Vice-President of Digital Transformation and Innovation at Cisco Canada. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his transformational work in municipal innovation. Several TAFE leaders met Rick as part of the CISCO-Optus TDA study tour in May. It’s learning about his practical experience in serving local industry growth through technology and innovation which excites me about Rick’s attendance.

And to finish off the friendly invasion, I am pleased that the Hon Steven Joyce, author of Strengthening Skills, the review of Australia’s vocational education system will be the final of our keynote speakers for the convention. This will be an opportunity to get underneath the report and the approaches he has proposed. Don’t book flights home too early, as this is one of the key sessions of the convention where we can set up the TAFE agenda for the year ahead based on Steven’s insights. We will also wrap other events around Steven’s time at the convention.

The Commonwealth flavour is pertinent. Often referred to as the Common Weal at the time the term arose, it means ‘for the common good’. It’s often related to the political writings of John Locke which were hugely influential in the English Revolution in the mid-1600s when the parliament wrestled control of the treasury and armed forces from the Crown. Wealth to the realm switched to wealth to the people.

It’s pertinent to contemplate the rationale of the authors of our Constitution who called the collective force of the colonies the Commonwealth of Australia. I suspect the common good was clear in their mind and since has been the motive for most of the advances in the way we live – our progressive tax and welfare systems, universal health, postal services to all parts of the continent, distribution of GST revenues to states and territories based on need, and public education so all citizens can access opportunity upon which our fair go ethos depends.

Growing the common good is broader again in the Commonwealth of nations.

The Augar report has messages for us about rebalancing our post-school education system as commentators and citizens alike are perplexed about the poor treatment of TAFEs in national policy.

Canada represents a powerful message about alternatives to higher education. The previous conservative Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, writes:

“In my government, we came to believe that a greater focus on technical and polytechnic education is advisable. First, it is easy to forget that only a minority of people in our societies possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. Policy-makers cannot afford to be disconnected from the majority of the population. But second, the elite consensus in favour of university education is not justified by the data. The numbers indicate pretty clearly that the job and income prospects of many vocational or technical careers are much better than believed. It is simply social bias that presumes otherwise.”[1]

And it will be critical that we reflect on how the finding of Joyce’s review build our VET system.

Let’s hope we can learn from all three countries and our Australian speakers about a new world for VET in Australia – one focused on the common good.

Locke’s influence is deeper still. His political philosophy is regarded as the foundation of liberalism and was cited as the underpinning rationale of the French and American revolutionaries. And in his A Nation at Risk he connected a flourishing educational system to a country’s security and prosperity, themes I’ll return to one day.

In good news to finish. Australia leads the all-time tally of medals of the Commonwealth Games, followed distantly by England, with Canada a lap behind and New Zealand out of sight!

Early-bird registrations extended by a week

Early-bird registration for the TDA Convention, ‘The Power of TAFE’, in Brisbane on 3 – 5 September has been extended to this coming Friday, July 26 in recognition that staff may have been on leave the past fortnight.

Get you plans together now!

Register here.

To view full details on the convention and confirmed keynote speakers, visit here.

Australia makes an appearance in the US Congress to talk about apprenticeships

In a first since 1994, an Australian representative appeared before the US Congress last week and the topic was Australia’s apprenticeship system. Australia’s Education Counsellor in the US Embassy, Tim Bradley joined representatives from Germany and Switzerland to share about apprenticeship.

See the article. Those with a deep interest in apprenticeship are encouraged to view the two-hour hearing.

[1] Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption

Government-funded training activity falls to a decade low

The amount of government-funded vocational education and training delivered last year dipped to its lowest level in a decade, according to the latest statistics from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

NCVER’s Government-funded students and courses 2018 shows that hours of delivery – the actual teaching and training output from TAFEs and other providers – fell 6.4% to 336,400 hours in 2018 – the lowest level since 2008, and almost 31% below the peak in 2012.

This was accompanied by a 1.9% fall in student numbers and a 5.7% drop in subject enrolments during the year.

For TAFE, there was a 3.4% fall in total hours of delivery in 2018, but virtually no change over the three years since 2015. For private providers, hours of delivery were down 6.4% last year and almost 32% below the level in 2015.

The Chief Executive of TAFE Directors Australia Craig Robertson told Nine newspapers there had also been large declines in the 15 to 19 age category, which fell 3.1 per cent.

He said the decrease in the number of people seeking diplomas and advanced diplomas was a direct result of the ineffective and overly complex VET student loans program.

Advanced diplomas fell 7.5 per cent and diplomas fell 4.8 per cent, while there were also drops in Certificate IV (down 0.7%) Certificate III (7%), Certificate II (10%) and Certificate I (8.2%).

Mr Robertson was quoted as saying, “Possibly what’s going on is that people are just not seeing the qualifications as attractive enough either as a learning pathway or leading into jobs that are attractive in terms of conditions and salary.”

He said the sector needed to be revamped and providers needed more control to deliver training that students wanted.

See ‘Cultural bias’: Business calls for action as vocational education enrolments fall again in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age

ASQA says college cancellations the result of deliberate refusal to meet obligations 

In last week’s newsletter we reported the large number of training colleges that had their registrations cancelled by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) in late June.

We stated that “Some of the cancellations appear due to relatively minor oversights.”

ASQA Chief Commissioner and CEO Mark Paterson has responded to make it clear that ASQA does not cancel the registration of providers on the basis of such oversights.

“While some recent cancellations were triggered by failure to submit Total VET Activity data, this is neither an oversight nor is it minor,” he said.

“This data is of a critical nature to the VET sector, being the only information on delivery that exists and it is imperative that this information be complete, given it is the basis for policy decisions that have a significant impact on the sector and on providers.

“Where a cancellation decision has been made, it is preceded by numerous reminders to providers collectively and to individual providers, including notices of intent to impose a sanction and opportunities to respond,” Mr Paterson said.

He said that a provider that fails to submit data has not done so on the basis of an oversight, but “a deliberate refusal to comply with regulatory obligations”.

Mr Paterson said a small number of the cancellations were due to failure to submit the Annual Declaration on Compliance required by the Standards for RTOs.

“The same reminder and notice of intent process was followed in these cases and many had also failed to submit the required data. It is ASQA’s experience that, in many of these cases, the provider has effectively closed, but has failed to notify ASQA that it is no longer operating as an RTO,” he said.

Educational inequality sees VET students stuck in a 'bygone era', university vice-chancellor says

An educational “caste system” that discriminates between VET and university students has been graphically exposed by the recently appointed vice-chancellor of CQUniversity Professor Nick Klomp, pictured.

As head of a dual-sector university delivering TAFE courses alongside degrees, he says he’s one of a handful of educational leaders “who sees first-hand how our educational inequality manifests on both sides of the wall”.

In a column in The Australian, he depicts the divergent fortunes of two fictional students – Pete who chooses university and Rebecca who opts for an apprenticeship.

Pete enrols in a bachelor of engineering with a guaranteed spot within weeks. He is entitled to a low interest HELP loan with a generous repayment threshold, covering 100 per cent of the student contribution component of his tuition fees with the Commonwealth funding the remainder.

“For those who choose an apprenticeship, however, the system retreats to a safe distance to watch the sink-or-swim spectacle of the vocational hunger games,” Professor Klomp says.

Seventeen-year old Rebecca is expected to scour the industry for a potential employer and negotiate the terms of her employment and training package.

“She has zero room for error here; if Rebecca doesn’t nail this step, someone else will get her spot.”

There is no student loan available to Rebecca unless her apprenticeship is at the diploma level or higher, and even if she is eligible there is an upfront loan administrative fee.

“Despite countless reviews and attempts to break it down, this wall is still dividing ambitious school-leavers into two distinct camps,” Professor Klomp says.

“Our apprenticeship training system may have served our economy well for a time. But the world has moved on, whereas the way we train our apprentices remains stuck in a bygone era.”


Grattan Institute axes higher education program after director's departure

The Grattan Institute has decided to end its higher education program following the imminent departure of its program director Andrew Norton, pictured.
Grattan CEO John Daley said “Andrew is truly irreplaceable, and in view of his departure Grattan has made the difficult decision not to extend the Higher Education Program further.”

Mr Norton commenced in the role eight years ago and has been an influential voice in  tertiary education policy debate and media commentary.

“Andrew has made an enormous contribution to the Grattan team,” Mr Daley said.

“His wise counsel and wry observations about the realities of politics, ministers, and all sides of politics have often helped Grattan to steer a better course.”

He said Mr Norton is exploring a number of opportunities beyond Grattan, and his last day at Grattan will be September 26.

Seminar on the future of universities to mark Zelman Cowen centenary

Victoria University is hosting a symposium that is part of a series of events commemorating the centenary of the birth of Sir Zelman Cowen, the distinguished Australian scholar, statesman, and former governor-general.

‘The Role of Universities in the 2020s Symposium’ will explore the role of universities and the tertiary sector in responding to changing labour market needs and a diverse student population.

It is presented by VU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Dawkins, the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre and the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy, and builds on the recent Mitchell Institute policy paper, Rethinking and Revitalising Tertiary Education.

It will be facilitated by Professor Glyn Davis. Other speakers include vice-chancellors from the universities with which Sir Zelman was closely associated – the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, University of New England, Griffith University and Oriel College, Oxford – along with senior leaders from business and industry.

Employment Minister Senator Cash says deleting tweet after college meeting was the right thing

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said she was not aware that a West Australian training college she met with had its registration cancelled and was the subject of a review.

Senator Cash deleted a tweet congratulating Stirling Skills Training and its chief executive Bala Suppiah for being an “integral part of the vocational education scene in Perth for over 30 years”.

ASQA cancelled Stirling’s registration in April and the decision was put on hold pending the outcome of a review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In the meantime, the college has been told it can “neither enrol nor train additional students”.

Senator Cash said she was unaware at the time of the meeting that the college had a matter before the tribunal.

“We actually had a really good conversation. It was all about youth unemployment and the different programs that the government has in place,” Senator Cash said.

“When it was brought to my attention, I thought it was appropriate to take down the tweet, so as not to be seen to be influencing anything before the AAT.”

Tasmania offers grants to grow apprenticeships 

Skills Tasmania is seeking submissions from eligible organisations to undertake innovative projects that help lift the number of apprentices and trainees.

The Growing Apprenticeships and Traineeships: Industry and Regionally-Led Solutions Program (GATIRS) program is funded by Department of State Growth and will provide grants of up to $200,000 for projects that lift apprentices and trainee employment.

Applications closes August 6.

See more.

Google's expansion into training kicks off with free digital lessons 

Google’s move into the area of skills training has taken another step with the launch of an Australia-wide program of free digital skills training.

Google Australia Managing Director Mel Silva announced that ‘Grow with Google’ will be rolled out next year in all states and territories to provide digital skills training, both online and in-person.

“Grow with Google aims to help everyone – from business owners, to students, teachers, startups, workers, retirees, job seekers and not-for-profits – to build their skills, with lessons for people at all stages of the digital journey,” Ms Silva said.

The initiative was launched in March and includes an online learning hub accessible from any device with hundreds of training modules.

Diary Dates

National Apprentice Employment Network
2019 National Conference
31 July – 2 August 2019
Crowne Plaza, Gold Coast
More information

QLD School VET Conference
Velg Training
9 August 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

VTA 2019 State Conference
15 – 16 August 2019
RACV City Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne
More information

National Manufacturing Summit
21 & 22 August 2019
More information

National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia
More information

TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
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2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
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Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
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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