Openness – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Openness – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Relax – breathe deep, loosen every muscle, sink into your inner soul. Roam in your mind for those thoughts that recur. Turn them and tumble them in your consciousness. Be alert to the one thing that keeps coming to you. Think through all the circumstances in your life when this thought was dominant. What events trigger that thought? What’s common in those events? Think deep. Hone those thoughts. Dissect and discern. Practice openness, it brings you a new perspective!


There’s no scientific basis to these words – I’ve made them up. Openness though brings to mind two things. First, the theme of a new approach to vocational education rolling out in the Basque Country in Spain and second, reflecting on my time in VET the illusiveness of quality is the recurring thought.

Melanie Williams (pictured) is the Associate Dean (Scholarship) at William Angliss Institute (WAI) responsible for embedding scholarly practice across the Institute, in both its TAFE and higher education offerings. Melanie was awarded a fellowship from the International Specialised Skills Institute. The institute operates out of Victoria, having been founded 28 years ago by Sir James Gobbo AC, CVO, QC former Governor of Victoria who wanted Australians to undertake international skills development and applied research that would have a positive impact on industry and the broader community. Melanie was sponsored specifically by the skills area of the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training.

The Basque Country embarked on a new approach to vocational education – what they call ‘ETHAZI’, the Basque equivalent to the notion of ‘openness’:


It brings together technical skills with a specific focus on twenty first century skills in collaborative challenges, the aims of which are to improve the professional competence of VET learners in order to produce good professionals, good citizens and good people. Thus, although the training is vocational, it also embraces a broader personal and social mission.


The approach is best described as challenge-based learning, similar to what we would call problem-based learning. Its features are telling, however. It is based on a holistic learning approach where units of learning are re-organised into team-based approaches to dealing with real-world circumstances with the learning design deliberately targeting creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, not ‘just’ solving problems. There’s far more involved, of course, across the full VET operation in the Basque Country which Melanie’s report covers. ETHAZI has been implemented in 52 of the 56 colleges with 1650 teachers trained in the model.

Interestingly, the model is a response to feedback from industry partners.


The Basque government has responded at a systemic level to employers’ demands for less focus on training in technical skills and more on the twenty first century skills that companies need to maintain competitiveness.


A recent evaluation shows that even though the implementation is a challenge and students take time to adjust to the new-found responsibility of managing their learning, absenteeism has dropped. It finds the pedagogy is contemporary as it is based on processes and content of the workplace in increasingly digital contexts, and balances technical and transferable skills.

The standards-based approach in Australia is designed to allow for this innovation. Sadly, I take Melanie’s point, that “the various, arguably punishing, compliance regimes that apply to Australian VET render holistic learning and assessment problematic.”

I wonder if we now have a sector with irreconcilable philosophies that create a conceptual maize, probably a thicket. What do I dissect? Poor experiences of the VET market, leading to over-correction – detailed prescription in training packages in the vain hope of defining everything industry needs, which creates an all-too-easy compliance rod by which to whack providers. Then a deep-seated anxiety across the sector that it can’t loosen up lest the old ‘quality’ problems emerge. And, I discern – old thinking wrapped up in market philosophies and competency-based training won’t stop the recurring quality problem.

The opportunities are there, if education is given a voice. Melanie’s report is just part of a journey of exploration of WAI. The book Study of Food. Tourism, Hospitality and Events – 21st Century Approaches prepared by practitioners at WAI explores a new approach to scholarship across the vocational and higher education domains. The European Union Erasmus+ scheme is allowing a staff member from TAFE SA to travel to the Basque country to learn about the approach. The Congress of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics is being held in San Sebastian in the Basque Country in October.

I’m open to the new thinking that trusting providers to deploy contemporary pedagogy and scholarship through professional teachers will achieve outcomes far more satisfying for the students and industry than specification and compliance can deliver. But what would l know? Perhaps I have taken advantage of the new Cannabis laws in Canberra!!

TAFEs and universities in frontline of coronavirus crackdown

Strict new rules to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus will have a direct impact on TAFEs and universities at the start of the new semester.

The most drastic measure is an immediate and total prohibition on entry into Australia of all non-Australians who are departing or have passed through mainland China in the preceding 14 days. The ban, which will extend for a fortnight, will impact a significant number of returning international students.

In addition, any TAFE or university staff and students who have travelled to mainland China within the past 14 days will not be able to attend facilities and must remain in isolation for 14 days.

If a student or staff member has been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, they must isolate themselves for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case. They should not attend university or TAFE and must avoid contact with other students and staff.

If a student or staff member develops symptoms within 14 days of leaving mainland China or within 14 days of last contact with a confirmed case, they should see their doctor for urgent assessment.

See the latest official information on the novel coronavirus for university and VET students and staff, and for university and VET facilities.

Adopt an 'Olympic mentality' to thrive in education, report urges

Australia has been urged to adopt an “Olympic mentality” in education and to embrace the importance of learning at every stage of life to avoid falling behind, globally.

The recommendation is contained in A Vision for Australia 2019 – Beyond Education: Lifelong Learning for Australia’s Future, produced following the GAP 10th Annual Economic Summit, held at NSW Parliament House last September. It brought together 133 Australian and international thought leaders, including teachers, academics, business executives and policy makers to examine the role of education in future competitiveness.

“While important improvements in inclusion have been made, Australia is falling behind its international peers in terms of educational excellence,” the report says.

It calls for educators at every level to embrace an Olympic mentality to encourage the highest as well as broadest standards of performance, and for the gaps between educational “silos of excellence” to be filled to allow people to move more easily between them.

TAFE  recognised in Australia Day honours

A number of TAFE figures have been recognised in the latest Australia Day Honours.

The Chair of TAFE SA, Jacqui McGill was awarded an Officer (AO) in the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the minerals and mining sector, and to gender equity and workplace diversity.

TAFE Queensland Director, Trina Hockley was made a Member (AM) in the Order of Australia for significant service to the community, and to business.

Also awarded an AM was Dr Helen McLean from South Australia for significant service to dentistry, and to professional associations. Dr McLean is a lecturer at Gilles Plains TAFE, School of Para Dental Studies.

Former Queensland TAFE teacher Emeritus Professor Cindy Shannon was also awarded an AM for significant service to Indigenous health, and to medical education.

A Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia was awarded to TAFE SA lecturer Joanna Agius for her service to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to the indigenous community.

Cheryl Moggs received an OAM for service to the Indigenous community of Goondiwindi. Cheryl has been a teacher of Indigenous visual arts, natural resource management and culture at TAFE Queensland.

Elizabeth Mourik received an OAM for service to education, and to the community. Elizabeth has been a communications tutor in speech pathology programs at Charles Sturt University since 2016 and was head teacher at TAFE NSW’s Albury campus.

David van Nuen, a former art lecturer at Liverpool College of TAFE and St George College of TAFE, was awarded an OAM for service to the visual arts.

PM reaffirms commitment to VET reform

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison appeared at the National Press Club last week in what is seen traditionally as the launch of the political year.

While the summer has already been packed with political action, which he responded to, he reminded Australia of his commitment to VET reform.

“Skills reform will be a priority for COAG discussions in March and beyond and I want to thank the states and territories, premiers and chief ministers, for their commitment to that agenda,” he said.

He also mentioned the $50 million commitment to TAFE Revitalisation which has been authorised and will deliver “infrastructure projects, refurbish facilities, and purchase specialist training equipment”.

“ASQA is being reformed to improve its governance, accountability and engagement with the sector.

“And we’re making it easier for many VET students to access courses by increasing the size of loans available for around one-quarter of all eligible courses. That was signed off last week and I will expand further on all of these issues and the economic plan on other occasions,” he said.

See the the PM’s National Press Club address.

Heads of pilot skills organisations announced

The first two of the federal government’s Skills Organisation pilot programs has formally commenced, with the heads of the two bodies also named.

The pilots were announced in last year’s federal Budget and will trial new ways of shaping the training system in in two sectors – human   services care, and digital technologies. A third pilot for the mining sector was announced last September.

The government has appointed businesswoman Yasmin Allen as chair of the digital technology pilot. Ms Allen is a director of the ASX, Santos and Cochlear.

John Murray, CEO of the Royal Australian Airforce Association WA has been named chair of the human services care pilot.

The steering groups for the pilots will lead the development of a detailed design for each Skills Organisation including a governance model and a future work program.

ASQA blunts anonymous online accusations

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQAO) has dismissed claims by a so-called whistleblower regarding the agency’s staff turnover, travel spending and the alleged use of unqualified auditors.

The claims were made by an anonymous twitter account, Education Issues Australia. It included the claim that ASQA has a 40 per cent year-on-year staff attrition rate. In an article in Campus Review, ASQA said the claim was “without foundation”.

ASQA also dismissed the allegation about unqualified auditors, saying ASQA auditors are required by the Standards for VET Regulators 2015 to hold suitable qualifications and none can conduct an audit without the mandatory qualifications.

ASQA said staff travel arrangements were bound by the Renumeration Tribunal, with travel for SES-level staff consistent with travel policies across the public service.

Diary Dates

Year13 Youth Engagement Summit
19 March 2020
The Venue, Alexandria, Sydney
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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
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VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
14 – 15 May 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
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2020 VET CEO Conference
Velg Training
15 May 2020
QT Gold Coast Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
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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
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2020 National VET Conference
Velg Training
17 – 18 September 2020
Gold Coast Convention and Exhitbiton Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland
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World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
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