Skills, enterprise and imagination on a grand scale – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Skills, enterprise and imagination on a grand scale - comment by CEO Craig Robertson

I trust you’ve had a good fortnight, because I have, and it’s been full of hope and promise for vocational education and training in Australia and beyond.

This past week I travelled to Nanjing and Beijing, immediately following the Congress of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) in Melbourne.

I was privileged, as Chair of the WFCP, to be invited as keynote speaker at a day-long symposium on innovation and entrepreneurship, hosted by the Nanjing Institute of Industry Technology (NIIT) as part of their centennial celebrations.

What strikes me about China is size – no different to other Australians who have been fortunate to visit the country – wide-open land under cultivation, spotted with stacks of apartments in cities, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

The scale of the transformation to China’s VET system also is beyond compare, demonstrated amply at the annual China Education Association for International Exchange at the National Exhibition Centre in Beijing.

Against the backdrop of ‘Made in China 2025’, aiming for China to become a world manufacturing power across ten priority industry sectors, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017 committed to improve the system of vocational education and training and “promote integration between industry and education and cooperation between enterprises and colleges”. The opening of the silk trade routes under the Belt and Road Initiative instils a global perspective on the work of the institutes.

The impact is big – a total of 1,388 post school technical institutes and technical universities outnumbering mainstream universities. Size brings economies of scale. Only in China would you find the Wuhan Railway Vocational College. Next year, 20 of the 21 provinces in China will have fast rail.

The President of the College, Mr Shixing Cheng, impressed me immensely. Not because the college won Silver in the WFCP Awards of Excellence, or its industry connections, or the export of its training model to Thailand, but his insights on innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E).

He described innovation as thinking beyond the boundaries and entrepreneurship as just getting on with the job. For children we must “protect their curiosity and imagination,” he said. Education leaders with captured markets such as that for Wuhan can be excused for simply protecting their status quo. Not for Mr Cheng. If his attitude is replicated across all technical institutes, the pay-off for China promises to be exponential in scale. NIIT will also provide a stimulus as it has the lead for I&E and Internationalisation for all Chinese technical institutes.

In our own way, we have tried. Who remembers the Innovation and Science Agenda? In what is regarded as one of the more famous slip-ups of this government in respect of VET, the role of TAFEs in technology transfer was omitted. Even when Innovation and Science Australia suggested that VET had a role to play and it should be examined, the government said there was nothing to be done.

Then, why am I so positive about the future for TAFEs? We are an open trading nation. Our businesses are alert to new markets and attuned to the strategies of our competition. As a system with industry’s voice guiding it, surely it is only a matter of time before it realises itself that our stock of skills is at risk of falling behind, as will they.

The lessons from China and the Congress should be clarion calls resonating into the federal election.

In the meantime, Bendigo Kangan, Chisholm, Melbourne Polytechnic and Victoria University Polytechnic signed MoUs with several technical institutes in a further demonstration of TAFE I&E.

TDA Chief Executive Mr Craig Robertson and the President of Wuhan Railway Vocational College of Technology, Mr Shixing Cheng,

Standing left to right; Qian LI (Victorian Government Trade & Investment Office, China), Brooke Hartigan (Minister Counsellor for Education and Research, Australian Embassy in China), Craig Robertson (TDA), Yougen Yu (CEAIE), and Huiqing Wu (Sichuan College of Architecture Technology).
Sitting left to right; Jackson Docherty (Victoria University Polytechnic), Jennie Dehn (Chisholm Institute), Tim Gilbert (Melbourne Polytechnic) and George Zhang (Bendigo Kangan Institute).

'Capabilities' needed to prepare students for an uncertain world, new report urges

A new report from the Mitchell Institute calls for rapid government action to boost capabilities across all stages of learning.

The report, ‘The capable country: Cultivating capabilities in Australian education’, examines the capabilities that are developed alongside content knowledge – “what it looks like to be a curious, creative, problem solving, team player.”

“Capabilities have the potential both to prepare students for an uncertain world and to enhance enjoyment, engagement and achievement throughout learning,” the report says.

The report presents eight steps which it says can help to embed effective promotion of capabilities across the education system.

It says a common assumption is that, in order to develop capabilities in students, teachers need to completely change their instructional practice. Rather, it urges a more balanced approach, where the expertise and knowledge of the educator positions students as “active agents in their learning”.

It also raises the possibility of moving to a system of assessment of general capabilities.

“It is important to ensure assessments are useful for educators, students and other stakeholders, with an emphasis on student growth and development, rather than competitive ranking,” it says.

Ombudsman signals tougher action on behalf of students from failed training colleges 

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has signalled renewed efforts to access the records of failed training colleges and remedy the debts incurred by thousands of students caught in the failed VET FEE-HELP scheme.

Its latest annual report details the work undertaken by the VET Student Loans Ombudsman which started in July last year.

The report says the scheme has left “a long tail of individuals who have incurred debt for which some form of redress would appear to be desirable.”

“We have been able to close some of the complaints with a satisfactory outcome, but many complex complaints remain subject to investigation and the identification of appropriate remedies,” it says.

There were a total of 6,397 complaints from students in 2017-18 disputing their debts. A total of 1,844 were referred to the ATO for deferment of repayments.

“Through a procurement process late in 2017–18, we obtained access to over 400,000 records relating to the enrolments of students at a large unavailable provider,” the report said.

“In 2018–19 we will use these records to assess and investigate complaints received about this provider and in our assessment of systemic issues.”

MOU opens the way for closer links between NSW clubs and TAFEs

NSW registered clubs will be able to open their facilities for use by TAFEs and other training providers, as well as providing ‘hands-on’ experience for students, under an agreement between Clubs NSW and the state government.

The planned use of club facilities by TAFE is contained in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between the government and Clubs NSW.

Under the heading “Skills Delivery”, it states that the government will “commit to formalising the role clubs play in providing spaces for training and education and consider how clubs can be used to improve access to training facilities and provide hands-on experience for trainees in their local communities.”

This will include “Facilitating a partnership between clubs, TAFE and other educational/training organisations,” the MOU says.

It will also include “Promoting the use of club facilities by TAFE or other educational/training organisations for the education of students”.

See the MOU.

Free trade agreement information workshops

TDA is partnering with TAFEs across Australia to deliver workshops under Austrade’s Free Trade Agreement Training Provider Grant Program.

The program was established to assist small and medium-sized enterprises to understand how to use, access and benefit from FTAs with China and South Korea.

The workshops also provide an exciting opportunity for TAFE staff to strengthen their working relationships with their local industry and employers by assisting them to understand FTAs and the growth opportunities they provide.

The workshops are being delivered by Bill Cole, Partner, International Trade at BDO Australia. Bill is an international trade expert who has worked extensively with SMEs and public sector organisations. He provides advice in significant areas of trade such as import/export processing, procurement, business development and market entry, with an emphasis on efficiently reducing risk and compliance costs through refining business processes and the accurate application of customs and related law.

Upcoming workshops are being hosted at the locations listed below. There is still an opportunity to participate in face to face workshops or in the webinar session. Please follow the links if you wish to participate in a specific session.

Proposed Date Location Registration
7 Nov CQU
Email by Thursday 1st November
8 Nov TAFE Qld
Click here
13 Nov Webinar – VET Development Centre, Melbourne Click here
20 Nov North Metro TAFE
Click here
22 Nov TAFE SA
City Campus
Click here

Former university chief, Peter Coaldrake, to head provider standards review

The former Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, Professor Coaldrake, has been appointed to lead the upcoming review into higher education provider category standards.

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the review would examine the standards that all higher education providers must meet around research, community engagement and quality assurance. The review would decide how the standards should evolve to improve the flexibility and transparency of the sector, he said.

Professor Coaldrake, a former chair of both Universities Australia and the Australian Technology Network of Universities, said he looked forward to hearing ideas on making the provider categories “more flexible, transparent and fit for the future”.

A discussion paper will be released later this year, followed by consultation, with the report due in the second half of next year.

OECD study highlights the good and the bad of Australia's apprenticeship system

Financial incentives to encourage Australian employers to take on apprentices have been cited in a report by the OECD as an example of policies that sometimes promote apprenticeships for the “wrong reasons”.

The report, Seven Questions about Apprenticeships: Answers from International Experience, sets out findings from a three-year study across major OECD countries.

It argues that government attempts to encourage employers to take on apprentices through financial incentives are less likely to succeed than adjusting the design of apprenticeships to ensure that employers cover their costs for the duration of the training program.

“With subsidies in the picture, apprenticeships may become financially appealing to employers even if they offer little training,” the report says.

“This seems to have happened in Australia, where the withdrawal of a subsidy led to a fall in apprenticeship placements in some sectors, such as services…,” the study said.

“In the affected sectors employers rarely hired apprentices upon completion and poor employment outcomes were pointing to quality problems…,” it said.

It highlights Australia’s group training organisations as a positive case of external bodies supporting apprenticeships, “… selecting apprentices adapted to the needs of employers; arranging and monitoring training both on and-off-the job; taking care of administrative duties; and ensuring that apprentices receive a broad range of training experience…”

Scholarships on offer for rural and regional students

The federal government has announced the opening of the second round of the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program.

The program allows students living in regional and remote Australia to access up to $18,000 to support their study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), agriculture and health courses at Australian universities and vocational education and training institutions.

Applications are open from eligible students from Certificate IV to PhD level.

Further information, including on how to apply, can be found at both the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) and the Department of Education and Training.

Applications close Friday December 14.

Education 4.0 the focus of Hong Kong higher education conference 

The Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong has issued a Call for Participation for its International Conference on Applied Education, Technology and Innovation (THEi AETI 2019) next April.

It welcomes abstracts from academics and practitioners, industry partners, education entrepreneurs and innovators engaging with Education 4.0 with breakthrough stories to tell.

Education 4.0 refers to the shift in the education sector in response to Industry 4.0 where digital transformation is transforming work.

See more.

Northern Territory receives $2.9m under national skills agreement

The Northern Territory government has received its first funding under the recently signed Skilling Australians Fund.

Under the agreement, the Commonwealth will provide $2.9 million, to be matched by the territory, creating more than 2000 new training places.

The funding will support the expansion of the Territory Pre-employment Training program, and the creation of the Territory Workforce Program, a new industry grants program for apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships.

It follows the signing of a bilateral schedule between Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education Senator Michaelia Cash and Northern Territory Minister for Workforce Training Selena Uibo.

VET teaching conference to attract leading researchers 

The Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group (ACDEVEG ) is holding its two-day annual conference on VET teaching and VET teacher education in Melbourne on 6 & 7 December.

With the title, ‘Building confidence in VET Practice’ it will feature an afternoon of practitioner-led workshops on Thursday, 6 December, followed by a research-based conference the following day.

Keynote speakers are Christine Robertson, Pro Vice-Chancellor VET at Charles Darwin University, and Lou Mycroft, a further education researcher and teacher-educator from England.

There will also be eight research-based parallel papers, a panel of experts in VET teaching and VET teacher-education, and the presentation of ACDEVEG awards including the new VET teacher-educator awards in conjunction with PwC’s Skills for Australia.

See a list of presenters and papers

See a flyer and the conference website.

Book deal on offer for world congress delegates

One of the workshop presenters at the recent WFCP Congress in Melbourne, Stuart Howie is offering delegates a 15% discount on his new book The DIY Newsroom.

TDA CEO, Craig Robertson, says of the book: “Important messages are lost in entertainment value or couched as false news. These are serious times. More than ever, we must heed the straight-shooting messages in The DIY Newsroom.”

Anyone wishing to order can go to, pre order using the code WFCPDIY2018 and select the appropriate shipping (Australia, NZ or international).

Diary Dates

New VET Research Perspectives
AVETRA (Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association)
26 October 2018
Canberra Institute of Technology, Canberra, ACT
More information

Taking the Lead: Building Community
Community Colleges Australia Annual Conference
13-15 November 2018
More information

2018 Australian Training Awards
15 November 2018
International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Tickets can be purchased here.

Engineering Next-Generation Learning
4 – 7 December 2018
Wollongong, NSW
More information 

Building confidence in VET Practice: 4th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education   
Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
6 – 7 December 2018
More information