The Scan # 177 17 March 2016

Shamrock

News

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Fed takeover of VET unlikely

14 March 2016   |   The newly-minted Commonwealth minister for skills, Scott Ryan,  has poured cold water on a proposed Commonwealth takeover of vocational education and training set out in a draft of a paper to go to the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).  Under the proposal, TAFE fees would be deregulated and TAFEs would receive the same funding.  While education Simon Birmingham has strongly advocated a Commonwealth takeover,  Ryan says there are strong arguments to maintain the current system. Ryan said redesigning the troubled VET FEE-HELP scheme – which has blown out in costs and led to the targeting of vulnerable and disadvantaged students – is his top priority.   He stressed he did not want to punish private providers offering high quality courses and that the sector has to be flexible enough to respond to changing economic needs…[ READ MORE ]…

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Deakin doesn’t see a future at Warrnambool

14 March 2016     |     Deakin University is considering withdrawing from its Warrnambool campus, about 250km south-west of Melbourne, amid a steep decline in student numbers, from 1,342 students in 2011 to a forecast 872 students this year.  Deakin vice-chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander said the university hopes to maintain the campus, but that “all options” are on the table. den Hollander made it pretty clear that the preferred option is another provider taking over the campus but if that can’t be negotiated then closing the campus is a real option. She said there is a growing gap between what Deakin offers and the “particular needs of the region’s students, businesses and the broader community” which is mostly at certificate and diploma leve).  While Deakin doesn’t itself offer sub-degree programs, it does have partnerships with other providers.  In particular Deakin College, formerly MBIT, provides a Certificate IV in Tertiary Preparation and a range of diploma programs on the three other Deakin campuses (Burwood, Geelong Waterfront and Waurn Ponds), which provide pathways to Deakin degree programs…[ READ MORE ]….

Monash to exit Berwick

8 March 2016     |    Monash University says it will close its Berwick campus in Melbourne’s outer south-east unless it can partner with another university on the site.  The university said it will stop teaching at Berwick by the end of 2018 after a deal with Victoria University (VU) to use the campus fell through.   Monash University vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner said enrolments at the campus had been consistently low, making it difficult to provide a “full student experience”.   She said demand for higher education in the south-east has not grown to the extent it was once anticipated, with many local students tending to go past the local campus in preference for other campuses.  There only three faculties on the campus — business, education, nursing — and enrolments are low, with only 1,600. Just 300 new students enrolled at the campus in 2016.  Monash has 67,000 students overall, with almost 30,000 at Clayton and more than 20,000 at Caulfield and 3,800 students at its Peninsula campus…[ READ MORE ]…

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Election 2016

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Sharon Bird

Labor spokesperson Sharon Bird

Labor promises national VET review

16 March 2016      |      Labor will launch a comprehensive review of the vocational education and training sector – equivalent to the landmark Gonski Review into school funding and the Bradley Review of higher education –  if it wins office at the next election. The review would be the first such inquiry into the VET sector since the Kangan Report in 1974, which actually coined the term TAFE.  Labor has also promised a National Priority Plan for TAFE and proposes to cap tuition fees for the VET sector, establish a new ombudsman for the sector and halve the lifetime limit for VET FEE-HELP loans…[ READ MORE ]….

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Collaboration and the case for certainty

University Australia’s election agenda

17 March 2016

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In this extract from his  speech to the recent Universities Australia Conference (which was mainly about research, innovation and collaboration),  Universities Australia’s chair Barney Glover sets out in broad terms the university sector’s policy agenda for this election year. He prefaced his comments with the observation that the sector has been subject almost 2 years of policy insecurity and uncertainty which has taken a toll on the ability of universities to plan and allocate resources (it’s actually more like 4 years, taking into account the churn that was going on in the latter days of the Gillard government). In October last year, Universities Australia released its policy statement – Keep it clever 2016.  This sets out in detail the context of its policy agenda (“universities are really important to the nation’s present and future security and well being”);  what’s needed to drive research and innovation; public funding support for students; and government support for international education.

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Policy reform

Reform is difficult at the best of times and is made more difficult when grand reform ideas are quickly taken off the table, the risk being the Barney Glover2eradication of anything remotely catalytic.

It’s vitally important that we establish a tone that speaks to the possibilities of reform rather than the limits of party-political paradigms.

This is especially relevant in this election year but more so in light of the considerable challenges Australia’s universities face in the decades to come.

In a setting where reform is approached with such reductionist cynicism; just what is it we are missing?

I would argue we are missing the chance to do the very thing, as a nation, I demonstrated we can be so good at in my earlier remarks on research collaboration.

That is, we are missing the opportunity to grow, develop and excel through a cognisant, progressive and collaborative approach to reform.

It would be remiss of me to reflect so pointedly on the dynamics of Australian political reform without addressing higher education reform. In many respects this issue has been subject to the many pressures I’ve discussed.

Without traversing the policy and political landscape since the announcement of the government’s higher education reform package in 2014, it is important to note, that despite the Senate’s opposition, the reforms in their original form continue to be government policy as reflected in financial and budget papers.

With Senate reform looming, these are far from “dead in the water” – as some have suggested.

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Plan B

Collapsed training college owners paid themselves $20 million 

14 March 2016

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The ABC’s 7.30 Report has reported that the owners of a major training college that collapsed after the Government cracked down on ‘study now, pay later’ loans appear to have had a long-term plan to cut and run from the sector.

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Global Intellectual Holding, which owned a number of providers, including Keystone College and Aspire, was a vocational education giant and its demise has particularly hit students in one of Victoria’s most disadvantaged regions.

Former Keystone student Liz Jolley has been a disability pensioner for 30 years and was signed up to a $22,000 Diploma of Interactive Digital Media, which as she admits was clearly beyond her.

She was recruited by Jacob Di Battista, who worked for National Training and Development, the marketing arm of Global Holdings.  He trawled the streets of Broadmeadows, outside Centrelink and public housing, targeting everyone, including the homeless.  He told 7.30:

Whether you’re in a wheelchair, scooter, blind, disabled, don’t really care. You’re a target.

Liz Jolley

Click image to go to 7.30 Report

Sitting at the top of Global Holdings were Aloi Burgess and Roger Williams, who’d grown the company into an $80 million enterprise. But then in 2015, the government clamped down on many private college recruiting practices.  Having failed to sell the company, last month Burgess and Williams put it into liquidation.

This might have been a disaster for students and staff, but not for Burgess and Williams.  The last financial report filed by Global shows they had a Plan B, a trust called The Collective Exit Strategy.

Before Global collapsed, the company lent $4 million to each of the directors personal companies and paid each $6 million in dividends.

While the liquidator reported apparent breaches of directors’ duties to the corporate regulator, Burgess and Williams are nowhere to be found.

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Comment & analysis

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The Year to date

Plus ça change

11 March 2016

There’s a lot to catch up with but, as they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (which is, according to the estimable Wiktionary, an epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”), meaning “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”)

Carpet baggers

As previously reported, changes to the VET FEE-HELP (VFH)  scheme legislated late last year provides some better protection of students from the carpetbaggers who have looted the scheme and dudded the students.  The government proposes to spend this year look at ways to rort-proof it from the likes of Phoenix.  But as so many people have asked: how did it get to this?

Part of the answer is a near pathological obsession by governments – of all stripes – with “deregulation” and “marketisation”.  As former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair observed last year, “…..this huge waste of government money is the “inevitable consequence” of governments funding the private sector to deliver a public good. From the home insulation debacle to export market development grants, film industry tax incentives, health and education subsidies, Samuel says the same thing has been happening “as long as I’ve been alive”:

Business is much, much smarter than governments, and business knows how to exploit and you can’t deal with that using people sitting in Canberra or Spring Street. The rogues – and they’ll be there in any industry – they say with glee, all the way to the bank, ‘Come in spinner’!”

This is not to argue against competition and a role for private providers but you have to have, among other things, a robust regulatory system.  Quite evidently, this has not been the case.

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The state of VET in Australia

A fractured system

16 March 2016

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In a policy paper, VET funding in Australia: Background trends and future directions, Peter Noonan from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute says the low priority traditionally accorded the vocational sector has been exacerbated in recent years by wild inconsistencies between states on what they funded and for how much, ad hoc federal funding programs, rorting and distortions caused by VET FEE-HELP and the relentless push to reduce costs for both levels of government.

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While there are 200,000 more VET enrolments than there were 10 years ago, enrolments have been trending downwards since 2012.

This compares to higher education enrolments which have risen 43% over the same period and which continue to rise.  Given the full implementation of the demand driven system in 2012, which enables universities to enrol as many students as they choose, there’s an obvious causal link there, which has particularly hit TAFE enrolments (a double whammy for TAFE, given aggressive growth in the private VET sector).

The paper notes that the Bradley Review (of which Noonan was a member) identified the risk

…that some states and territories face major fiscal constraints, which may lead them to reduce their investment in VET in the near future, leading to skewed and uneven investment between the sectors over time if a demand-based funding model is adopted for higher education.

The Bradley Review further argued that:

moving to a demand-based approach to funding higher education cannot be done in isolation from VET. Changing higher education funding but leaving VET funding untouched would compound existing distortions.

Which is exactly what seems to have happened.

VET funding1

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The case for a national VET review

16 March 2016

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Following is an extract from a submission by the LH Martin Institute to the House of Representatives Inquiry into TAFE (May 2013) which argues the need for a comprehensive national inquiry into VET.

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…policy-makers, in particular, but also industry, the VET provider sector and analysts need to be mindful of the sometimes enervating effect of constant changes to and attempts to remake the VET system.  A restless, seemingly ceaseless search for perfection seems to characterise the official mindset about the VET sector.  At any one time, it is almost certainly likely to be that one or other or several of Australia’s nine government jurisdictions will be inquiring into VET and or have in train a process of “skills reform”.

The sector would undoubtedly benefit from a period of stability, certainty and consolidation.

That stated, it is, of course, a requirement that policy settings and system architecture including funding arrangements be understood to be and broadly accepted to be “about right”.   Whether such a condition of broad consensus is achievable appears moot: it has, evidently, proved beyond achievement for a decade or more.

LH Martin Institute has stated the case for a broad overarching, root and branch review of VET, as has occurred in recent years in higher education (the Bradly Review) and schools education (the Gonski Review).  It’s well past time: such a fundamental review has not occurred since the Kangan Committee in 1973/74.

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Life & stuff

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14 March 2016

Oh Canada….

Elegy for a lost child

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On 2 September last year Turkish police found the body of a 3-year-old Syrian refugee – Aylan Kurdi – who had drowned, together with his 5-year-old brother Ghalib and mother Rehan, in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to escape Syria and eventually make their way to Canada. The harrowing images of the toddler’s lifeless body went viral, driving home the danger and desperation of the refugee crisis in Syria and inspiring a powerful emotional response from artists around the world. Australian singer/songwriter Missy Higgins, who’d recently become a mum herself, penned and recorded this poignant elegy. All proceeds from the sales of this recording are going to the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. Missy Higgins is currently touring – check here for places and dates. 

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Two footnotes:

  1. Canada’s response to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria and flowing into Europe has been to take 20,000 Syrian refugees since September. Australia has promised to resettle 12,000 but has so far managed to only “process” a handful of the refugees.
  2. Two Syrian men have each been sentenced to more than four years jail for people smuggling in relation to the drownings.

 

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Noticeboard

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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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