Where to now for tertiary education? Comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Where to now for tertiary education? Comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Educationalists say they can tell a lot from the way a teacher sets out their teaching space. Well-ordered rows of desks signal a trickle-down approach to teaching – knowledge is imparted from the front of the class. Flexible spaces point to an educator who approaches learning as a social task in which they are the knowledgeable facilitator.

The structure of the ministry announced by the new Prime Minister last week may say a lot more about the approach of this government to education than who picked up new roles.

TAFEs congratulate Dan Tehan on his new role oversighting early childhood education, schooling and higher education and Michaelia Cash as she takes on vocational education and training in addition to small and family business from within the jobs portfolio.

What would those looking on be thinking?

Many may fear a short-term focus on training for jobs at the expense of deep vocational education. The jobs part of government is about moving people from welfare to work, with success marked as a 26-week job, and policing the Government’s mutual obligations on those unfortunate enough to be unemployed.

Educationalists would likely question our educational credentials given we appear to be jettisoning vocational education for a jobs and training agenda. Genuine vocational education is key to a diverse education system whose very structures offer entry points for all to take up opportunities in an open economy and pluralistic society.

Just as gifted educators can work around the spaces they inherit, so can ministers. But how? Just as great teachers frame their approaches to the needs of students, great ministers put citizens front and centre. Don’t take my word for it, the newly elevated Prime Minister told Australians the new Liberal leadership is ‘on [their] side’.

Vocational education is important for a large part of voting Australia. Over 5.3 million Australians hold their vocational qualifications proudly and look to vocational education as a pathway to success for their family and friends. They have good reason to. Figures from Minister Cash’s department show that 7 out of 10 jobs of growth to 2022 require vocational education as preparation.

Vocational Education is more than simple training for a short-term job fix, nor fixed by trickle-down economics. Vocational Education is a deliberative educational process that sets people up for their future. It requires careful design and involves substantive general and technical education to ensure graduates can make a sustained contribution to the economic activity of our nation, and not be captured by the vagaries of employment patterns of business. We expect such outcomes from higher education and our universities, we should expect no less of true vocational education.

New funds and renewed collaboration with the states and territories to drive quality vocational education for all Australians who need it are the benchmarks I’ll look for from new Liberal leadership.

You would be excused for missing the changes made in the shadow ministry in the same week of the Liberal’s imbroglio. Education and Training remains unified under deputy leader Tanya Plibersek supported by Doug Cameron as Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships. Terri Butler adds responsibility for employment services, workforce participation and future of work to young Australians, in a sign that a positive future awaits all Australians if we can get our education system right.

I have written to Ministers Cash and Tehan to offer our support to work with the Government to grow strong tertiary education in Australia.

As a sign that vocational educators are getting on with the job, many will be gathering in Torquay, Victoria later this week to examine Innovative Teaching Practices in VET. Congratulations to the Victorian VET Development Centre for organising this important conference

Business council resists university pressure to weaken education blueprint

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) continues to argue for a single funded model of tertiary education with vocational education and higher education placed on an equal footing, despite concerns raised by universities.

The BCA’s original ambitious plan for tertiary education reform was released last October. It subsequently engaged Nous Group to undertaken stakeholder consultation and recommend any changes.

In its updated report, ‘Future-Proof: Australia’s future post-secondary education and skills system’, the BCA says it has not moved away from the fundamental design proposal covering structure, funding, information, governance and lifelong learning, “because we strongly believe the current system is not workable.”

“Most stakeholders also strongly agreed on the requirement for a strong VET sector that can compete on an even playing field, noting that the status of VET relative to HE had diminished in recent years,” the report says.

It said that many higher education providers saw a risk that a more integrated system might lead to the ‘problems in VET’ transferring to HE.

“Further, many HE providers were wary that the proposed reforms might hinder the success of the HE sector, rather than advance the VET sector,” the report said.

Experts warn that splitting education from training will set back reform

The split of education from training in the recent ministerial reshuffle continues to cause concern in the VET sector.

Under the changes unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Senator Michaelia Cash became Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education in the Department of Jobs and Small Business.

TDA Chair Mary Faraone told the AFR higher education conference that taking VET and skills out of the education portfolio was disappointing, and would be a challenge to any push for an integrated tertiary sector.

TDA Chief Executive Craig Robertson welcomed the move of vocational education into Cabinet but said the split between education and training meant any chance of the Coalition countering Labor’s promise of a comprehensive review of the post-school sector seemed remote.

Higher education expert Mark Warburton was strongly critical of the split, saying it effectively destroys VET coordination with higher education.

“It is the antithesis of what is required to get sensible tertiary education policy,” he said.

Administrative Orders, which outline departmental arrangements to support ministers, which were released late in the week indicate there will be no changes to departments.

As a result, Senator Cash is listed as a minister at both the Department of Jobs and Small Business, and the Department of Education and Training.

Private colleges told that profiteering will end under federal Labor

The federal opposition has delivered a blunt warning to private training providers of the likelihood of big changes in the training landscape under a Labor government.

Addressing the ACPET national conference last week, the Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships, Senator Doug Cameron said the commercial ascendency of for-profit training has put at risk the viability of TAFE and other not-for-profit providers.

“Profiteering and exploitation is wrecking lives – but it is also responsible for dismantling quality and trust in our vocational education system,” he told the private training lobby.

He said a fundamental flaw in VET “is that it is a market.”

“It is right to criticise and condemn the rent-seekers and the rorters – but equally, the market is behaving the way that markets do,” he said.

“There is an important role for non-TAFE providers in a high quality VET system complementing the role of TAFE, collaborating with each other – but if profit remains a driving and distorting force in the system, nothing will change for the better,” Senator Cameron said.

$2m in compensation paid to South Australian aircraft training students

The South Australian government has paid more than $2 million in compensation and retraining fees to 87 TAFE SA aircraft maintenance training course students who had their licences revoked following an audit report by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the TAFE SA settlement will cover the cost of students’ lost wages, re-training fees, accommodation and airfares for interstate and overseas students, as well as the cost of sending TAFE SA staff across Australia to conduct the retraining.

“On the advice of the Crown Solicitor’s Office, the government is now covering their lost wages and paying for them to be retrained but, because many of them live interstate, there is an added $1 million cost to fly TAFE SA staff on travelling roadshows to Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Perth to conduct the retraining,” he said.

Investment incentives needed to support India strategy

Federal government moves to expand the operations of Australian training providers in India may need upfront funding if they are to get off the ground, according to TDA chief executive Craig Robertson.

A recent report ‘An India Economic Strategy to 2035’ by former senior diplomat and public servant Peter Varghese, placed a focus on tertiary education, by both attracting students and growing the offshore operations of Australian providers.

Mr Robertson told professional international education newsletter The PIE News that while the strategy was welcome, he hoped the government would provide significant investment.

“The main reason why there are very few operations in India at the moment is the high-risk investment, and one practical thing the federal government can do is de-risk that with some upfront investment,” he said.

See the article.

Free TAFE for Queensland school graduates

The Queensland government has announced a $30 million plan to provide free TAFE courses to thousands of school students in priority courses.

The Minister for Training and Skills Development Shannon Fentiman said students who complete Year 12 in Queensland will have a full year after graduation to enrol in a “high priority qualification”.

The program will extend across almost 160 qualifications delivered on campus or as part of an apprenticeship or traineeship.

See more.

China VET study tour offer to end soon

There is just over a week to take advantage of an upcoming 13-day visit to China’s Anhui province for an intensive examination of the country’s vocational education system.

The event organiser, Immersedu, has made an offer of a  free return economy airfare from Sydney to Shanghai to individual participants from TDA member institutes.

The 13-day visit is from 25 November to 8 December 2018 and is limited to 15 delegates. The offer expires on 11 September.

See more.

Diary Dates

2018 VDC Teaching & Learning Conference
6 – 7 September 2018
RACV Torquay Resort, Victoria
More information

Tertiary Education Management Conference
9 – 13 September 2018
Crown Conference Centre, Perth
More information

Learning in Diverse Communities
Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL)
12 – 14 September 2018
More information

National VET Conference
Velg Training
13 – 14 September 2018
Adelaide Convention Centre
More information

2018 World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) World Congress (in conjunction with TDA National Conference)
8-10 October 2018
Melbourne Convention Centre
More information

China Annual Conference for International Education & Expo (CACIE) 
Beijing, China
18-21 October 2018
More information

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