You’re bad man! – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

You're bad man! – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Remember in your younger days your brother or sister congratulating you over the dinner table about something you had done at school – “you’re bad” – and your mother was confused!

Different meanings for the one word is part of modern life it seems.

This duopoly seems to be the case for some of the hip trends in education at present – micro-credentials and new learning platforms like Google Learning. In some circles they are being presented as a warning for VET to modernise, lest it’s left behind.

I take a slightly different view, although still tempered by these trends.

Micro-credentials present as the new wave of contemporary education policy – that’s the up-side anyway. They are attractive policy-wise as the hallmark of convenience and utility, the ultimate in serving the needs of the consumer. We need to look at current VET qualification policy and delivery for the down-side, however. Micro-credentials in VET are not new. The modular style of VET qualifications allows for them in a form as small as a statement of attainment or a skill set. National policy also dictates that all assessed units are transferable across providers for recognition.

Add this design and policy to other policies in Australia’s VET sector and a lethal mix is created, and those who need the most support to engage in deep learning are often the victims.

The contagion starts at the top. The narrative for the sector and its measure of success is a job (any job). This makes the next logical step aligning the training to the tasks involved in that job (any job). The tasks are expressed in nebulous competency terms, put in the hands of providers to bring to life. Add governments asking for more to be achieved from less – dressed as efficiency – mixed with students coveting convenience, it is inevitable for these bite sized learnings to be celebrated as the full extent of VET.

What long-term good is VET to students if the preferred option implied in policy promoted by government is bit-sized learnings which the individual needs to string together to create something meaningful? As I have said before, people are not well placed as consumers in this way, as they have little information at their disposal to make wise decisions given they don’t have the knowledge and skills for the industry. It’s like providing the ingredients but not the recipe.

Then what of these commercial learning platforms?

Fundamentally, a qualification is a form of regulation – albeit positive regulation. The capacity to create a qualification is a gift from the government. The ability to deliver them is also gifted by government, as is the power to award them. These are tremendous responsibilities as it impacts on the life chances of students. Oversight and regulation by government is therefore vital.

While these platforms are good, they are private and outside of government education regulation. Clearly, buyer beware. This sector knows well the dangers of runaway providers. The win of the ACCC against Empower (see below) is somewhat satisfying.

There’s good reason for regulated education. It’s akin to stable and predictable rule of law which underpins good economies. In our case, reliable quality control gives the public and employers confidence in the capability and skills of a person awarded a qualification. The more assurance there is, the more good providers can invest with confidence to develop their education services. That’s why we should be pleased ASQA is pursuing robust assurance across the sector, provided it is fair.

This doesn’t mean we ignore these new platforms – that would be at our peril. They are highly likely a portal to the future of learning. It would be silly to outlaw them, yet risky to embrace them. Equally, balance is needed to counter the downside of micro-credentials.

Without care both could easily create a more lethal mix in VET. My view? Let’s restore a genuine education approach above and beyond the here and now utilitarian approach to training which seems to dominate thinking. Then micro-credentials and private learning platforms can complement the sector, not bring it down.

When we get that right it’ll be bad, in the good sort of way, if you get my groove.

On a personal note, excuse my lack of attention this coming week. GWS has made it to the AFL Grand Final and I’ll be scrounging for a ticket!

PM holds first meeting of skills panelexpert

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has convened the first meeting of the high-level Skills Expert Panel that will advise the government on the implementation of its VET reforms.

The panel is headed by VET review author Stephen Joyce and includes the Mitchell Institute’s Peter Noonan and businesswoman Dr Vanessa Guthrie.

The panel had its inaugural meeting in Canberra last week ahead of the prime minister’s departure to Washington. The meeting included the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, and the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons.

Also meeting in Canberra last week for the first time was the VET stakeholder panel, comprising representatives of peak bodies that will be part of the consultation on the VET reforms.

Left to right: Dr Vanessa Guthrie, Stephen Joyce, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Senator Michaelia Cash, Professor Peter Noonan and Assistant Minister Steve Irons

COAG tells ASQA to help educate training providers

Friday’s inaugural meeting of the COAG Skills Council issued a Communique stressing that both the Braithwaite Review and the Joyce Review of VET highlighted the importance of training providers being helped to understand their obligations, while ensuring that “regulatory decisions are transparent”.

“Members called for immediate work to be done to reform ASQA’s regulatory approach, improve confidence in the regulator and support continuous improvement in training provision across the VET sector,” the Communique said.
The COAG meeting of federal, state and territory skills ministers has agreed that the national regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) should “improve its engagement with the VET sector” and expand its role in helping to educate training providers.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash also said ministers agreed on priorities to strengthen the VET system and to build a roadmap to deliver a shared reform vision.

“We are working with the states and territories as we embark on our ambitious reform agenda, and today was a significant first step on that journey,” Senator Cash said.

See Minister Cash’s media release.

Legislation introduced to protect VET students

The federal government has introduced legislation that, from next January, will extend tuition protection to domestic VET students.

It is designed to ensure that students are supported if their education or training provider stops teaching or closes entirely,” the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons told the House of Representatives in introducing the Bills.

“Students protected under these new arrangements will be assisted to complete their studies in a similar course with another provider and gain a qualification, or may have their loan removed for the parts of their study they have commenced but were not able to complete,” he said.

The new measures will be based on the Tuition Protection Service that has been in place for international students since 2012.

The scheme will be administered by a statutory appointed director who will manage the VET Student Loans, HELP Loans and TPS tuition protection arrangements.

All non-exempt approved providers will be required to contribute annual levies commensurate with their size and risk.

Submissions open to Shergold review of secondary schools

The federal government has invited submissions into its review of senior secondary school pathways, being undertaken by a panel headed by former senior bureaucrat Peter Shergold, pictured.

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the review is particularly interested in hearing from young people.

“Young people face the important decision to decide which option out of work, university, or vocational education and training will best help them realise their ambitions and is best suited to their skills, talents and personality,” he said.

Submissions are open until December 7.

A discussion paper outlining many of the issues is available here.

The discussion paper is supported by a background paper, which is available here.

CQU's reputation enhanced with major state training award

CQUniversity’s status as a national leader in the provision of VET has been reaffirmed with the award of Queensland’s Large Training Provider of the Year, Vice-Chancellor Professor Nick Klomp said.

“It is confirmation that as Queensland’s only dual sector university, CQUniversity is delivering Vocational Education and Training that is high quality and relevant – to communities, employers and industry,” he said.

“This is an acknowledgement for all the years of hard work by our staff and it’s a recognition that is well deserved.”

CQU Provost for the Tertiary Education Division Professor Helen Huntly said Pro Vice-Chancellor for VET Operations and Growth, Peter Heilbuth had been instrumental in the continuous improvement of VET operations, and she applauded his “leadership, experience and endless enthusiasm” that contributed to the award.

Picture: Peter Helibuth and Helen Huntly

Congratulations to TAFE NSW on seven-year re-registration

Congratulations to TAFE NSW for being awarded re-registration by ASQA for the maximum seven years. The renewal brings to conclusion the creation of TAFE NSW as one TAFE from the previous 12 separate NSW TAFEs.

Geoff Lee, NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education, said he wants TAFE NSW to be the gold standard for skills and training and recognises the importance of ASQA in helping them achieve this goal.

Federal Court delivers record penalty on failed private college

One of the worst cases of exploitation by a private training college has come to an end with the Federal Court imposing a record $26 million penalty and a $56 million repayment order against Empower Institute.

Empower ceased trading in April 2017 and  entered into voluntary liquidation.

The court found Empower engaged in unconscionable conduct, encouraging people in remote and indigenous communities and low socio-economic areas to enrol in VET FEE-HELP funded courses, using false or misleading representations.

“Between June 2014 and December 2014, Empower enrolled more than 4000 students, often using these appalling tactics,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

The court described Empower’s conduct as involving a “callous indifference” to consumer protection, including signing up consumers for courses which meant they took on large VET-FEE HELP debts, for Empower’s financial gain.

See more

New VET resource to provide a single source of key information

The new VET Practitioner Resource (VPR) provides a single access point via the VOCEDplus website to a range of resources designed to support VET practitioners in their teaching and assessment practice and in undertaking research.

Launched in July, the VPR draws on the content of the VOCEDplus database, NCVER products and external links. It can be reached from the VOCEDplus home page via Our Resources or the Resources menu. Once on the VPR home page, the Guide to navigating the VET Practitioner Resource presents a site map of the kind of information available with links straight to the relevant sections of the resource.

Items collated in the VPR are organised within the two general categories of ‘research’ and ‘focus on practice’.

The VPR is organised into three sections and the pages within the resource follow a standard design as far as possible, with common navigation aids and organisation of information:

Teaching, training and assessment: access standards, guidance, research and good practice resources to inform daily work, and select from Australian resources with some international examples; this section is the largest and has been separated into six topic pages to make finding information easier.

Practitioners as researchers: this section is for those who would like to undertake research, whether to examine an aspect of their own educational practice or to participate in a funded research project.

The VET workforcecontains information about the size and profile, working life, and professional development needs of the VET workforce.

Users of the VET Practitioner Resource are encouraged to send in their suggestions for any resources – free or fee-based – that they found supported their work. Email any feedback and suggestions for content to

Government defence industry seminar to tackle skills needs

A major government defence industry summit that will examine emerging skills needs is to be held in Perth in early November.

The inaugural National Defence Industry Skilling and Workforce Summit will be held from 6-7 November at Optus Stadium.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said the summit would focus on engagement with industry as part of the plan to deliver some $200 billion in defence investment.

See more

Diary Dates

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18 – 20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue (AAED)
18 – 20 November 2019
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
More information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9 – 10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information