The Scan #175 11 December 2015

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News

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VET FEE-HELP skewering system

 

Calculator11 December 2015      |       Explosive growth in the VET FEE-HELP scheme has masked massive direct public disinvestment in vocational education and training. While a report by NCVER shows a notional growth of 1.7% in 2014 over 2013 (plus $141.0 million, from $8512.4 million to $8653.4 million), it’s all in VET-FEE Help payments: actual direct expenditure by governments, including the Commonwealth declined markedly VET FEE-HELP.  VET funding through state and territory governments fell almost $320m, while fee-for-service ¬revenue — largely contributed by businesses — fell more than $130m. Federal government funding through channels other than VET FEE-HELP fell almost $500m.  Financial information 2014 shows that VET FEE-HELP is supplanting traditional forms of VET financing, as state governments and businesses withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars from the sector. Government spending fell $416m last year, even though Canberra shovelled an extra $1.06 billion into VET FEE-HELP….[ READ MORE ]…..

Innovating an “ideas boom”

Innovation

7 December 2015      |       Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled his much-anticipated Innovation Statement, saying he wanted to drive an “ideas boom”. The statement allocates almost $1.1 billion over the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation.

A key focus of the plan revolves around strengthening ties between the business community, universities and scientific institutions.
A $200 million innovation fund will co-invest in businesses that develop technology from the CSIRO and Australian universities. CSIRO will also get an extra $20 million to help commercialise research outcomes.
The mechanisms for funding university research are being simplified, with more focus on industry collaboration and less on publishing articles in academic journals. The six block grant schemes will be collapsed into two, with equal rating for research excellence and income from industry. The government will add $127 million in funding for university research over the next four years.
The previously endangered National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme will receive $1.5 billion over 10 years for projects such as ocean monitoring, advanced manufacturing and medical research.
There will also be $800 million over the decade for two major scientific projects: the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne (which uses light beams a million times brighter than the sun to generate discoveries) and the Square Kilometre Array (the largest radio telescope ever constructed).
The government will spend $84 million “inspiring” Australians in digital literacy and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). This includes new money to upgrade teachers’ digital skills, educational apps and $13 million to boost the participation of girls and women in STEM….[ READ MORE ]…..

Research quality soars

5 December 2015     |     The inaugural State of Australian University Research 2015–16: Volume 1 ERA research2National Report comprehensively details the quality of Australian university research benchmarked against world standards.  It identifies the excellence in research across a broad range of universities and the outstanding performances in areas of specialisation. Overall the quality of Australian university research continues to improve. The report confirms Australia’s university research performance is amongst the best in the world. In 2015, 89% of the assessed research areas in Australian universities is rated as world class, up from 68% in 2010….[ READ MORE ]…..

Phoenix crashes…and burns

Phoenix

5 Decemebr 2015    |      Melbourne’s Phoenix Institute has shut down its “real world division” (that is, its face-to-face, classroom rather than online delivery) as a result of a federal government crackdown which has seen VET FEE-HELP funding to the entire sector frozen and legal action initiated by the ACCC. Some 260 transpersonal counselling and art therapy students are affected by the closure.  Phoenix is one of a large number of colleges to have grown exponentially through its sale of online diplomas around Australia, using government money under the VET FEE-HELP scheme.It started the year claiming $200,000 per month from government to pay for courses, but by September, it was applying for a variation, claiming an annual payment of $300 million – or $25 million per month – a 125-fold increase….[ READ MORE ]….

Crackdown looming 

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4 December 2015    |    New rules to better protect students in the vocational education and training sector will come into effect from 1 January 2016 with the passage of the Higher Education Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Bill 2015 on 3 December. The changes a requirement providers assess the student’s capacity to undertake the course for which they are enrolling.  Ahead of the introduction of a new funding model in 2017, the total loan limit for existing VET FEE-HELP providers will be frozen at  2015 levels. There will also be tougher entry requirements for registered training organisations seeking to become a VET FEE-HELP provider….. [ READ MORE ]…..

Vocation collapses entirely

Vocation snip30 Novemebr 2015    |    Less than a week after going into voluntary administration education and training services company Vocation has been closed down, leaving 150 of its 180 employees without a job and more than 10,000 students in limbo.  In a statement on Monday 30 November 2015, administrators Ferrier Hodgson advised that as a result of further customer contract terminations, the lack of available liquidity to fund operations and the lack of ongoing support from key stakeholders, the voluntary administrators of Vocation Ltd have had no alternative but to cease the majority of the company’s operations effective from 30 November 2015...[ READ MORE ]….

ACCC hits up Phoenix for $106 m

26 November 2015    |  The Australian Competition and Consumer

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Loot in the bag…?

Commission (ACCC) has accused leading VET provider Phoenix Institute of false, misleading and unconscionable conduct and is seeking recovery of $106 million in Commonwealth funding through VET-FEE HELP.   The ACCC claims Phoenix tricked disadvantaged people into signing up for multiple courses and incurring large debts to the Commonwealth.  The alleged victims included those with intellectual disabilities, and people on Aboriginal communities. Sales people authorised by Phoenix signed them up to multiple online diploma courses which cost $18,000 each, even though some did not have access to the internet or computer skills.  The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)  has also announced that it proposes cancelling Phoenix Institute’s registration as a training organisation, meaning it will then be ineligible for further government funding ….[ READ MORE ]….

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UA News

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Go8 Nov

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NCVER Insight November 2015

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Milestones

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Murdoch names new vice-chancellor

3 December 2015

……………………………………………………………………………………………………… Internationally experienced university leader and academic, Professor Eeva Leinonen has been selected as Murdoch University’s next vice-chancellor, which has been shaken for more than a year by power struggles and a probe by the West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission..

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Eeva

Professor Leinonen is currently a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Wollongong, a role she has held since 2012. Prior to this she was Vice Principal (Education) at King’s College London.

She has an academic background in linguistics and psychology and has extensive experience in higher education in the United Kingdom, Europe and internationally, including 19 years at the University of Hertfordshire, where she served as Deputy Vice Chancellor and Dean of Health and Human Sciences.

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Comment & analysis

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Venting about VET 

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25 November 2015     |    An RTO operator, who wishes to remain anonymous (fair enough),  laments that the reputable “sprats”, such as herself, are being caught up in the net intended to catch the “sharks” in the VET ocean.

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Governments in Australia extol the virtues of small business – for their contributions to employment and innovation, for example – but in the training industry “small” is starting to be an impossible feat.  It’s getting to the point that an RTO can only survive if it has an extremely large scope and doesn’t specialise, as that gives it the flexibility to game the system to survive constant funding and regulatory changes.

…what we have seen in recent times is the proliferation of “sharks” in the VET ocean – alpha predators, who are big mean and nasty.  Governments are casting a net – not before time, either – to at least rein them in.  But the VET “sprats” – smaller reputable providers – are emerging as “collateral damage”, caught in the net intended to capture the sharks and subject to an ever increasing burden of regulation which, in context, is unnecessary.  By and large, the sprats aren’t the problem authorities are trying to net.

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Once was TAFE

8 December 2015

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There’s been a growing chorus of outrage over the looting of VET FEE-HELP by a handful of VET providers, coupled with disbelief that the government and regulatory agencies could have had such lax safeguards as to allow this to happen. It was all perfectly predictable. On 29 April 2012, The Scan published Once was TAFE, a commentary on the then Victorian government’s introduction of so-called “competitive neutrality” in the public funding of VET. It’s a piece that has stood the test of time. It does beggar belief that having been witness to the chaos that was occurring in the Victorian system courtesy of open access to funding and manifestly inadequate regulatory procedures, the Commonwealth could basically repeat the mistakes of Victoria in extending access to VET FEE-HELP – and then let it run unchecked for a couple of years. 

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The past couple of years have been like Christmas time for carpetbaggers in the Victorian VET sector. The “skills reform” initiated by the former Labor government opened up public funding of vocational educational and training provision to all comers.  And as to the field of dreams, the private RTOs have flocked.   At the end of September 2011, 721 providers were delivering government subsidised enrolments in Victoria, almost 80 more than at the same time in 2010 and 160 more than in 2008. The share of government subsidised enrolments by private providers increased from 14% in 2008 to 36% at the end of September 2011 and is now in excess of 50%.

These are sudden and dramatic shifts, which have resulted in the apparent destabilisation of a number of the public TAFE institutes.  In 2011, the combined surpluses of the 14 standalone TAFEs in Victoria, which fund really important things like infrastructure and facilities, halved, from$192m to $98m.  Analysis by sector specialist Gavin Moodie reveals that if you discount one-off capital items, the underlying operating results are pretty bleak, with only 4 of the 14 standalone TAFEs operating in the black.

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9 December 2015

Beggaring belief

Fairfax Media reports on the $1 million cost to taxpayers of completed Human Resource Management Diplomas at the so-called Australian Institute of Professional Education (AIPE) – Aussie dollars$111 million paid out in VET FEE-HELP in 2014 for just 117 completions.  Meanwhile The Oz reports that the Australian Competition an Consumer Commission is taking a third provider – Empower Institute – to court over allegations of “misleading or deceptive and unconscionable conduct” when marketing its courses to remote communities across the country (it will follow Unique International and Phoenix College to the Federal Court dock) – it enrolled 14,000 in 2014 for just 5 completions, which would work out at over $10 million for each completion !!!  

And while  VET FEE-HELP was being looted, what was ASQA, the sector regulator, doing?  Not a lot it seems: it got around to launching an investigation into AIPE in November 2015 – that’s right, last month. 

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Anatomy of a scandal

How did the Australian VET system get here?

8 December 2015

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Jim Davidson, a former senior official of both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments and now a Senior Honorary Fellow of the LH JimMartin Institute, dissects the  crisis now enveloping the VET sector. As as he asks: How  could this have happened?  Good question. He says future policy responses by government need to deal with the root causes of the current growth in VET FEE-HELP and not further exacerbate the issues caused by the current policy settings.  And he proposes that an immediate measure should be  a moratorium on VET FEE-HELP loans for online course delivery and establish an enquiry to formulate appropriate requirements and costings for online delivery of nationally accredited qualifications including a benchmark completion rate.  It’s a bit of a no-brainer: ALL the providers under investigation and/or being prosecuted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have one thing in common: online delivery.

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8 December 2015

ACPET dismayed, too

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Rod Camm2ACPET’s Rod Camm expresses dismay over the raft of changes in relation to VET FEE-HELP legislated last week  -and fair enough, too, because the blameless will be collateral damage in cracking down on the utterly blameworthy rorters.  But Camm also poses the question that has occurred to most VET sector participants and observers: how could this have been allowed to happen?  He answers the question thus: 

Without….checks and balances this could only mean Government has been approving this phenomenal growth, in a relatively small number of public and private providers, blind.

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Print

Of course the last week was, and the week coming, will be dominated by discussion about the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Bill 2015.

As you would all be aware, the Government introduced the changes with no forewarning or consultation.

On hearing of the changes, I flew to Canberra to meet with Ministers, the Opposition and Senators in an attempt to rectify the problems, particularly the Freezing of VFH accounts at 2015 levels. Unfortunately, the Bill was passed that day, less than 24 hours after it was introduced.

Many members have expressed their concerns and it is important that you continue to do so. What disappointed me was that I, along with other representatives from the sector are appointed to a VFH Reform Working Group. To be on this group we were required to sign detailed confidentiality agreements. The Group only met a week ago where we discussed a range of reforms. Unfortunately there was not a word of the changes the government was about to introduce. Not sure I will attend this group again.

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The importance of universities to Australia’s prosperity

28 November 2015

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 Universities Australia commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to analyse the contribution that universities make to Australia’s economic and social prosperity. This work was undertaken to inform the development of Universities Australia’s Keep it Clever—Policy Statement 2016.  The report seeks to present a comprehensive and coherent framework of benefits generated by universities. This includes examination of the conceptual role of universities in Australian society and how they contribute to the success of the nation, as well as a more detailed analysis of the benefits directly attributable to universities. The scope of the analysis does not include a detailed examination of the economic activity generated by university operations, but rather examines the contribution made to the productive capacity of the economy through universities’ teaching and learning, research discovery and adoption, and community service activities.

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As institutions, universities embody social, economic and intellectual resources which combine to generate benefits on a local, national and global scale. They equip students with the knowledge and skills that allow them to make greater contributions to society; they generate and disseminate knowledge which enhances productivity and improves living standards; and they provide a myriad of broader community benefits.

This report canvasses and examines the various ways in which universities contribute to our economic and social prosperity and how, given the economic imperatives confronting Australia, the sector’s role is likely to evolve and grow over time.

 Universities’ operations make significant contributions to Australia’s economic output

Australia’s university sector directly employs over 120,000 staff and supports the delivery of education to over one million students. The operations of the university sector generate significant contributions to Australia’s economic output and national income.

    • The sector contributed around $25 billion to the Australian economy both directly and indirectly in 2013, accounting for over 1.5% of Australia’s GDP and 160,000 fulltime equivalent (FTE) jobs.
    • In 2014–15, education related exports accounted for 5.7% of Australia’s total exports, representing the largest service export and the third largest export category overall. Higher education is the single biggest contributor to this, representing around two-thirds of the total value.

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PolArt

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How teaching funds research in Australian universities

28 November 2015

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A report by the Grattan Institute report finds that universities earn up to $3.2 billion more from students than they spend on teaching, and have powerful incentives to spend the extra money on research. International students, who usually generate more revenue per student than domestic students, contribute a substantial proportion of this surplus. The report’s author, Andrew Norton, says the finding is concerning because, while university research matters to Australia, the evidence that it improves teaching is less clear. He observes that direct spending on teaching, by contrast, is far more likely to ensure that universities offer the high-quality courses students want. In this commentary in The Conversation, Norton observes that the priority of research within universities means that teaching does not always get its share of time and money. He proposes that any new funding system must ensure that money intended for teaching is spent on teaching.

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UnisNo-one knows exactly how universities spend their money. But questions are asked about how universities have financed huge growth in the amount of research produced over the past 15 years – and a new report by the Grattan Institute could have the answer.

It finds that, in 2012, universities spent at least $2 billion on research that was meant for teaching. This means that around one dollar in every five was spent on research rather than tuition.

Universities are not doing anything improper in spending money this way.

The current legislation pays universities on student numbers, but is silent on how exactly the money should be used.

But the absence of specific teaching funding makes it hard to ensure that any extra money intended to benefit students is actually spent on students.

So why are universities so focused on funding research? And is there a need to be more transparent about how universities spend their money?

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Life & stuff

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A  candle in memory of David

8 December 2015

Candle
On 9 December 2006,17 year old David Iredale and three mates went for a hike in the Blue Mountains as part of their Duke Of Edinburgh Award program.  They planned it pretty carefully and they had detailed maps and stuff. But it all went terribly wrong: the maps indicated a fresh water source along the route, which wasn’t there. It was hot -mid-30s centrigrade- and they’d run out of water. Somehow, David became separated from his mates – my recollection is that as the strongest of the hiking party, he struck out ahead of the others to seek assistance. He became severely dehydrated and rang emergency services on his mobile phone. It was very poor reception but he tried to get across to the operators the dire circumstances of his plight. He made a number of calls, to no avail. Various operators kept asking for his street address. He kept telling them he was on a big rock near a walking trail in the Blue Mountains. But they kept demanding his street address. He asked for a helicopter to be sent.  He was told off for being abusive. In the event, nobody did anything. David’s body was recovered some days later. Each year at this time, I reflect on this terrible episode and remind myself to be not indifferent to the plight of others.  I tell my kids, if you get into any sort of real trouble, you ring me and/or your mother FIRST; we might argue later, but we’ll address the trouble first.

And I light a candle in memory of David.

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One Hundred Stories

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Monash University’s commemoration of the Great War.

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Wall of Commemoration
The One Hundred Stories are a silent presentation. They remember not just the men and women who lost their lives, but also those who returned to Australia, the gassed, the crippled, the insane, all those irreparably damaged by war. The Great War shaped the world as well as the nation. Its memory belongs to us all.

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The VET Store

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The VET Store is a  service by the VET Development Centre which provides access to a range of information to support VET practitioners in the work they do.

VET Development Centre

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