Deep institutional capability – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Deep institutional capability – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Last week I invoked the notion of TAFE institutional capacity as the bedrock of technology transfer – the economic objective of vocational education systems around the world – but sorely missing in the Australian narrative.

It’s there in the vocational education model adopted in Australia but is too easily overlooked in the maelstrom of policy confetti raining down on Australia’s VET system at present.

Last week I talked about the trinity of education – what is knowledge, how it is best structured and how it is best transferred? The sacred which brings transformation.

These elements of transformation, despite the mantra of an industry led system, are in the hands of providers.

A qualification in VET is a set of outcome statements curated by industry bodies. Many may be falsely under the impression that they outline the content of training. Far from it.

Our standards-based model relies on the provider developing the content (what is knowledge?), formulating the course from the standard (how is it best structured?) and then delivering and assessing in a way to maximise the acquisition of knowledge (how is it best transferred?).

I was attracted to the response from Tom Karmel to the Interim Report by the Productivity Commission on VET. Few would disagree that Tom is the wisest economic head when it comes to vocational education, given his senior national public sector roles and as the Managing Director of NCVER for 11 years up to 2013.

He laments the lack of institutional capability in the VET sector compared to universities:

One of the advantages of stronger institutions is quality assurance can be delegated to the institution. Quality of education and training can never be provided by a strong regulatory environment (all it does is to guarantee compliance and higher quality paperwork). Rather, quality depends on the innate quality of the institution and its internal governance arrangements. Strong institutions will promote quality.

Tom’s input is timely and pertinent. This past week ASQA released its discussion paper on self‑assurance. The direction is laudable, but it sticks to the compliance mantra and it is hard to see how it moves the sector toward ministers’ aspiration for quality and excellence.

The concept of self-assurance requires providers manage their business to ensure a focus on quality, continuous improvement and ongoing compliance with standards set by governments. The role of ASQA, as the regulator is to promote this culture, to monitor each provider’s performance against the Standards, to identify any non-compliance and to support providers to return to compliance (or to take necessary sanctions action where this is not possible).

Language means something in launching reviews such as this and one can only assume that the compliance card has been played, lest there is a rush of dodgy operators sensing there’s an easy buck in VET again.

At the same time, the heads of agreement released by the Australian Government this past week had as one of governments’ higher priorities: “Strengthening quality standards, building Registered Training Organisations (RTO) capacity and capability for continuous improvement and developing a VET workforce quality strategy.”

Does anyone really think that self-assurance against strengthened quality standards with a smattering of workforce professional development will solve the issues? It is hard to skip over Toms’ fundamental point – compliance begets compliance, compliance begets paperwork – and I will extend it a bit – paperwork begets the mundane.

I take Tom’s next words to heart, “(Strong institutions) also provide flexibility if given self-accreditation powers. In thinking about educational markets, the potential role of strong providers should not be forgotten.”

Self-accreditation in a system characterised by national industry qualifications, I hear you ask? A serous issue that needs to be addressed, which I will do in coming weeks.

Choice or complexity? More than 430,000 variations of VET funding on offer 

The complexity of VET across Australia has resulted in more than 430,000 variants in funding across qualifications, jurisdictions and course types, according to a new report from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute.

The vocational education system we need post-COVID-19’ says VET has suffered from some of the worst aspects of a federation – “double ups, inefficiencies, blurred responsibilities, cycles of reform and, at worst, outright waste and mismanagement”.

It identifies 2,400 qualifications across nine jurisdictions, four course types and five different levels of student loadings, all of which attract different subsidies and funding.

“The result is that there are at least a possible 430,000 permutations of VET funding,” the report says.

“There has never been a truly national system of delivering vocational education in Australia. This does not necessarily mean a Commonwealth-run system, but a cohesive national system,” it says.

The report also cites problems including declining public investment, a flawed quality framework, a poorly functioning market and unequal treatment of students.

Among its recommendations it calls for a national quality framework – drawing on the model for the early childhood sector, more independent assessment of VET qualifications, and encouragement for providers to partner with industry and community to meet local needs.

Heads of Agreement released by the Australian Government

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has released the heads of agreement between the Australian Government and states and territories to guide the next stages of reform for vocational education and training and the arrangements for the $1 billion committed to JobTrainer.

TDA has prepared a quick guide to elements of the agreement.

The Gordon goes global

The Gordon Institute of TAFE, based in Victoria`s second biggest city Geelong, has launched the delivery of the International Skills Training (IST) courses in China.

Partnering with the Chongqing Centre for International Education Exchange, The Gordon will deliver teacher training to over 50 vocational colleges and schools in one of the largest municipalities in China, boasting a population of 34 million.

The Gordon’s CEO, Joe Ormeno, said: “These partnerships are so important in the context of the rapid development of economic globalisation where we see the flow of talents and resources between countries and regions becoming increasingly frequent.

“This is particularly true for higher education around the globe.”

Chair of The Gordon Board Justin Giddings, pictured, also highlighted the benefits of the partnership, with graduates of the program being globally competitive, high-calibre professionals who will enter the workforce with an international vision and a range of mature skills that are absolutely portable.

The current Gordon’s partnership with Chonqing Jianzhou College has already experienced great success with its first group of Chinese students completing a Diploma of Building and Construction.

Hundreds of Queensland training colleges de-funded 

The Queensland government says it has removed public funding from about 260 private training colleges, and has warned of a further regulatory crackdown.

“Quality training for Queenslanders is a top priority for the Palaszczuk Government – and we won’t hesitate to take action against dodgy providers,” the Minister for Training and Skills Development Shannon Fentiman said.

Ms Fentiman said the number of private RTOs receiving government subsidies has dropped from almost 720 four years ago to 460.

“In the last 12 months alone we have ended funding agreements with 60 Queensland providers,” she said.

“And this year we have commenced our new Skills Assure program, where for the first time in Queensland’s history we are proactively auditing every training provider in QLD to ensure they meet our strict standards.

“Anyone who doesn’t measure up will lose their ability to access public funding.”

Ms Fentiman said in the past two years the Department of Employment, Small Business and Training has referred three matters of suspected fraud to police, with investigations ongoing.

A new vision for further education in England

In an inspiring speech in early July, England’s Minister for Education, The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, (pictured) outlined the blueprint for further education.

He outlines the need for further education in the COVID recovery.

“As we recover from this tragedy, further education will be even more important than ever,” he said, and added, “the development of technical and vocational skills, the greater embedding of digital skills – will be vital to charting our course to recovery.”

The Minister praised the effort of further education colleges during the COVID lockdown.

The proportion of learners that colleges have managed to keep engaged is astounding. And while the challenge of moving learning online has been formidable, the success with which it has been achieved demonstrates the vast potential of digital learning – and the potential to transform education further as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate.

Take the time to read his speech and listen to reflections of David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges.

A right of reply

TDA has been asked if a right or reply to the TDA newsletter could be set up. While we are looking into options, a reply to last week’s column is published on the TDA website.

ASQA unveils self-assurance for training providers

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is inviting feedback on its planned move to a system of self-assurance, where training providers take on more of the onus for managing risk and driving quality improvement.

An ASQA consultation paper outlines a three-stage process to enable providers to manage their operations to ensure a focus on quality, continuous improvement and ongoing compliance, in line with the findings of ASQA’s recent Rapid Review.

The paper makes it clear that self-assurance is not self-regulation, where industry effectively takes responsibility for regulation, with government having a limited role.

“The concept of self-assurance requires providers manage their business to ensure a focus on quality, continuous improvement and ongoing compliance with standards set by governments,” the paper says.

ASQA is seeking examples of how providers already employ effective self-assurance to help build capability.

It is also after suggestions as to how the annual RTO declaration on compliance – often seen as a regulatory burden – could become an opportunity to review quality systems, governance, and student outcomes.

The consultation period will run until 31 August.

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 

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

Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
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