Embrace what you love… the answer for VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Embrace what you love… the answer for VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Stick with me this week because you might think I’m completely off-topic.

One of the advantages of monthly subscription to music services on smartphones is the ability to explore at little cost one’s eclectic taste. I suspect some revert to 70s and 80s music probably for the memories of a slimmer waistline, and an actual hairline.

Call it post-modern, post-middle age crisis, but for me it has been a weird exploration of opera. My aria of the summer is “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka. The composer, Antonin Dvorak, developed his craft through direct experience in the orchestra pits of Prague theatres, playing viola for great operas by Mozart and Rossini.

Based on an ancient Czech fairy tale, Rusalka is a swamp-bound water-nymph who falls in love with a human Prince – a bit like The Little Mermaid if Disney has been your source of culture acquisition. Rusalka is preparing to give up immortality and the power of speech in her desire to be in human form and with the Prince, the only pathway to her true love offered by the Jezibaba, the witch.

Faced with the prospect of unreturned love, Rusalka sings to the moon for its light to penetrate the castle to tell the Prince of her love. The song is haunting and aches with her longing to be with him.
Moon, stand still a while
and tell me where is my dear.
Tell him, silvery moon,
that I am embracing him.
For at least momentarily
let him recall of dreaming of me.
Illuminate him far away,
and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!

What’s the point I’m trying to make?

Do I want you to be impressed with my newfound touch of culture? Is it that the divide between the prince and Rusalka tells of the economic divide in this country? Does Dvorak’s achievement tell us that greatness has humble beginnings? Perhaps the prince is the embodiment of the ultimate in vocational education that appears so elusive. Who (or what) is the Jezibaba in our modern VET system? Or, is it the fact that my access to music, which brings enlightenment that would otherwise be cut off by cultural and cost barriers, justifies a free liberal education? Take your pick.

Perhaps the best pickings from this allegorical landscape is the power of love. For Valentine’s Day this Friday it’s hard to see whether there’ll be much heart in it given the start we’ve had to the year. Perhaps not. Troubled times make us slow down and contemplate the important things in life.

Love is more than the Mills and Boon variety. We are told to pursue in our life what we love to do; what gives meaning. It’s difficult imaging a career doing something that deadens the soul. It’s hard singing a lilting melody to procedures and rules. Helping people achieve their goals through genuine vocational education is another matter though. As you contemplate your year, whether as a teacher, administrator, bureaucrat, an auditor or a provocateur, let that thought lighten your spirit and lift your sights.

I listen to this song often. At the risk of further torturing the metaphor, for me, it’s more of a lament – that what is possible for truly uplifting vocational education in this country appears distant. I wonder if the prince of VET is in his castle shielded by parapets of rules and specification? Will the moon shine new possibilities for a better way for vocational education?

At the end of the newsletter I’ve included some links to the Aria and an English translation of the words. In a quiet moment this week I encourage you to listen.

The Prince found Rusalka, embraced her, and led her away from the swamp.

This week embrace what you love and it might just make it a bit easier to cope in the swamp!

I’ll be back on-topic next week.

See Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon” with soprano Renée Fleming and the BBC Symphony Orchestra

See the lyrics and translation

100,000 Chinese students 'trapped' by coronavirus outbreak

An estimated 100,000 Chinese students remain stranded offshore, unable to start or resume their studies at Australian universities, TAFEs and colleges.

There is a major effort behind the scenes to assist the Chinese students with approaches that would mean their studies for 2020 are not impacted.

Much of the effort is being directed through the international education taskforce set up by the federal government.

The 28-member committee, of which TDA is a member, meets weekly with the education and trade ministers. Apart from coordinating as much assistance as possible for the students, the taskforce is looking at strategies to maintain Australia’s reputation as a reliable and world-class destination for education and training.

The impacts of the virus outbreak and the temporary ban on arrivals from mainland China are now widespread, affecting universities, TAFEs, private colleges, accommodation providers, students and their families.

Most Chinese students are enrolled in Sydney and Melbourne universities, so the disruption is being felt the most there.

But the fallout is also impacting TAFEs and private providers, especially some colleges where Chinese students comprise up to 90% of enrolments.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said that approximately 56% of Australia’s 189,000-strong Chinese tertiary student cohort – approximately 106,000 students – remain offshore.

Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia told an ITECA conference on Friday it was a “perfect storm”, and noted that Australia’s main competitor countries – UK and Canada – are still accepting students from China.

Australia’s proximity to China seems to have compounded the impact of the travel ban.

“Many of these Chinese young people went home for Lunar New Year, intending to only go away for a week,” Honeywood said.

“Now, two years into a three-year degree or half a year into a diploma, they’re trapped back there with, in some cases pets in boarding kennels here, leases on apartments, and thinking, how can we access our education?”

On February 1, the government imposed a two-week travel ban on foreign nationals who are departing or have transited through China. Health Minister Greg Hunt gave a strong hint last week that the travel ban is likely to be extended beyond the initial 14 days.

Coronavirus information and support

There is a range of information and support available for Chinese students and education providers impacted by the widening coronavirus outbreak.

The Study in Australia website has daily updates and a range of information for the Chinese student community.

A hotline – 1300 981 621 (8am to 8pm AEDST Monday to Friday) – has been established to assist international students with questions relating to their study and  coronavirus. The service offers bilingual language support and can refer students to counselling services.

Students and providers can also access a dedicated email:  international.students@dese.gov.au

Some work is underway to expand online content for affected students, in keeping with China’s notorious firewall restrictions and in formats that are relevant and accessible.

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the visas of students still in China and affected by the current travel restrictions remain valid.

“It is only if students attempt to travel to Australia and it’s determined that they have been in mainland China from 1 February 2020 that their visa will be cancelled,” he said.

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment has updated information and fact sheets, specifically for universities and VET students and providers.

Government-funded training edges higher

The number of students in government-funded training rose 5.5% to over one million in the first nine months of last year, with the biggest increase in the area of skill sets, according to the NCVER.

Between January and September 2019, the total number of students in government-funded training reached 1.01 million, up from 958,000 for the corresponding period  in the previous year.

The vast majority of students (83%) were enrolled in training package qualifications. However, there was a 47% increase to 9,500 in students enrolled in training package skill sets. The number of students in non-nationally recognised training rose 23% to 48,300.

Engineering and related technologies was the most popular field of education, with 16.4% of government-funded program enrolments, followed by society and culture with 15.3%.

TAFEs provided 56% of government-funded training compared to 31% by private training colleges.

See more

Cancelled VET FEE-HELP debts nearing $1 billion

The value of student loans refunded by the federal government to the victims of failed private training colleges is approaching $1billion.

The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons told an ITECA conference on Friday that the government has re-credited a total of $885 million to 57,000 students who were caught up in the former VET FEE-HELP program.

“And that’s not over yet,” he said.

Under the redress scheme set up by the government, students with VFH loans who were unfairly signed up or disadvantaged by college failures can apply to the VET Ombudsman to have their debts wiped.

Kathy Dennis from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said three separate reviews of the new VET Student Loan scheme, which replaced VET FEE-HELP, have identified a number of issues for both students and training providers, including the “high administrative effort” associated with VSL.

Ms Dennis acknowledged that much of the initial policy focus on avoiding the rorting that took place under VFH and “we probably went a little bit too hard”.

“I think what I’d say to you is that three years into the program, we are now in a place where we can start to think about whether we’ve gone too far and what we might need to do differently.”

ASQA culture to be key part of overhaul

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has foreshadowed significant changes to its culture that it hopes will improve the way it engages with training providers.

ASQA Chief Commissioner and CEO Saxon Rice said that a “rapid review” that commenced in November has identified both internal and external feedback supporting a shift in emphasis away from compliance toward “innovation, more flexibility, more openness, and more communication”.

The change is part of a new approach designed to lift ASQA’s educative role with the sector.

Ms Rice said ASQA was also examining ways it could build greater capacity for self-assessment by VET providers.

ASQA will create a stakeholder liaison group, to complement the existing training provider reference group.

“This group will assist to identify and respond to key issues facing providers, to work through those issues without ASQA, and to assist us in appropriately targeting educative resources that respond to the sector’s needs,” Ms Rice said.

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
More information 

2020 VET CEO Conference
Velg Training
15 May 2020
QT Gold Coast Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
More Information

Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT
Annual 2020 Skills Conference
11 June 2020
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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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National Skills Week
24 – 30 August 2020
Various locations
More information 

2020 National VET Conference
Velg Training
17 – 18 September 2020
Gold Coast Convention and Exhitbiton Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland
More Information

World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
More information