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Victorian TAFEs will be given $70,000 each to help plot the way forward, in the wake of this month’s funding cuts, which the TAFEs estimate will cost them about $300m a year – around $17 million a year each. The grants to the state’s 18 institutes are designed to help them develop “transition plans”. At a meeting on 29 May, TAFEs were given a list of consultants available to help prepare transition plans, which will be assessed by a three-person expert panel yet to be appointed by the government. Holmesglen institute CEO Bruce Mackenzie said he hadn’t thought about how he’d use the $70,000. It would possibly pay for the redundancy of one teacher, he said.
The last thing I need is a consultant.
A consultant observed that it will be interesting to see who might be on this expert panel, given most experts seem intractably opposed to the new funding arrangements – perhaps consultants?
Meanwhile GippsTAFE, in Victorian minister Peter Hall’s own seat, revealed that between 10 and 20 staff are to go, with more retrenchments to follow. While GippsTAFE CEO Peter Whitley is reportedly enraged at the State Government’s funding cuts, he is encouraging those considering further education to act quickly and enrol now, before the fees rise on 1 July 2012.
Victoria’s continuing experimentation with opening up the training market has opened the door to doubtful providers within the mainstream of VET, evidenced by a series of scandals played out in the Victorian Parliament and reported in the media, writes John Mitchell in Campus Review.
These providers are associated with practices such as offering students iPads or shopping vouchers to sign up for government-funded training programs, and delivering in, say, 40 hours, programs that normally take six months. Given the media exposure of these practices, the whole of VET is now tainted by association.
Meanwhile,Victoria has declined the offer to have the new national regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), regulate VET providers that only operate inVictoria, preferring that their own Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) continue as regulator. VRQA was criticised in late 2010 by the Victorian auditor-general. ASQA cannot move in and stamp out dodgy Victorian providers currently regulated by VRQA, unless invited to do so but ASQA’s Chief Commissioner Chris Robinson has set out his intention to implement a new era of national VET regulation that will apply to those providers that do fall within the jurisdiction of ASQA. He says that ASQA has “quietly prepared itself” since its launch last July and is now ready to escalate its deliberate targeting of questionable providers.
We haven’t made a lot of broad pronouncements at this point because we’ve only been partially established, but you’ll hear a lot more from us as we start to rollout nationally more in the next year or so.
TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) has released a National Charter for TAFE as the basis for a framework for the National Partnership Agreement on Skills. The purpose of the charter is to form a framework under the recent COAG agreement, which included “developing and piloting independent validation of training provider assessments and implementing strategies which enable TAFEs to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition”.
The charter was developed following recommendations of Skills Australia in its landmark report, Skills for Prosperity: A VET Roadmap. TDA chief executive officer Martin Riordan says:
The national charter can become a cornerstone of the way public funds are allocated within Australia’s vocational education and training system.
The national charter is based on four principles:
Funding maintains the viability and responsiveness of public providers.
Quality criteria are substantially enhanced.
Governance enables flexibility and responsiveness.
Recognition of the innovation and leadership roles of TAFE, including its pivotal position in rural and regional Australia.
If the higher education (HE) sector is to get near the government’s “unrealistic” HEparticipation targets it needs significant investment in vocationally orientated courses in the lower-middle class suburban fringes, Monash University demographer Bob Birrell has warned. Birrell said recent progress towards the government’s target of 40% of 25-34 olds holding a bachelors degree or higher qualification by 2025 had been driven by previously high immigration. According to Birrell, the sector will inevitably fall behind the target unless there is major investment in new universities to service areas of low participation. And he said that will have to be backed up by more student financial support to encourage students from low and middle-income families, as well as courses that appeal such as those with a vocational focus.
To help students from low socio-economic status (LSES)backgrounds do their best universities need to engage with them and their teachers rather than act when it is too late, writes Marcia Devlin, who is leading a national project examining the effective teaching and support of LSES students. She suggests five key areas of relevance:
- Inclusive curriculum design that caters to diversity, scaffolds integrated opportunities for students to learn tertiary literacies alongside discipline content, and protects academic standards.
- Promoting engagement with, and support from institutions need to ensure there are collaborative learning and organised peer-to-peer contact opportunities both inside and outside the curriculum as well as opportunities for the families and communities of LSES students to engage with the institution. Resourcing and promoting student-to-student mentoring programs is an important contribution to assisting LSES and other students engage with fellow students.
- Encouraging “help-seeking” behaviour by students use available support services. Leaders have an important role to play in encouraging staff to use early feedback and referral to encourage students to seek, for example, academic, language and learning skill help.
- Minimising financial challenges by providing and promoting a suite of financial services and support for students that include short- and long-term loans, scholarships and advice on accessing government funding.
- Supporting teachers institutions should take into account the challenges of inclusive teaching and of providing detailed help, feedback, referral and support to LSES and other students and ensure teachers are appropriately resourced and supported.
Seven of the 10 NSW universities saw their surpluses drop, in some cases dramatically, in 2011. The only institutions with an improved financial position were the three rural universities, two of which clawed back into the black after posting losses in 2010. The NSW auditor-general’s report into the state’s universities shows that The University of Western Sydney saw its surplus plunge from $65 million in 2010 to just $13m last year, with Wollongong’s surplus going from $102m to $38m, while Macquarie’s was more than halved from $76m to $31m. Charles Sturt University went from $16m in 2010 to $39m, making it the third highest surplus in the state. The University of New England and Southern Cross University both bounced back from just below break-even in 2010 to surpluses of $18m and $8m respectively. UNSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer said UNSW’s financial position – an operating surplus of just $7.5m for 2011 – was much worse than on paper.
UNSW’s operating result for 2011 was actually close to break even. The accounting result cited includes donations, grants and other funding committed to specific capital and research projects – funds that are not available for general operations. It would be more useful for the sector if the Auditor-General looked beyond the raw figures to provide a more accurate picture of the financial situation facing universities.
A National Tertiary Education Union survey of 1243 casuals confirms that core academic work such as lecturing is being increasingly done by casual academics and that is likely only to increase under the student demand driven system. The results underscore the urgency for the NTEU to agree on a unified position on how to reduce casualisation as part of the upcoming enterprise bargaining round with universities. NTEU president Jeannie Rea says the findings from the survey, one of the largest undertaken in Australia, are “extremely alarming”, with significant implications for the quality of undergraduate education.
The majority of survey respondents work over and above what they are paid for. Many indicated they did not have access to the resources necessary to do their job properly. This is of particular concern given that more than half of all undergraduate teaching in our universities is carried out by casual academic staff.
Chinese students with sub-standard English have been given certificates of qualification suggesting they have bilingual proficiency from the University of Canberra, an official audit report of its offshore programs has found. Vice-chancellor Stephen Parker went to China in January to try to find a quick way to fix the problem in its bilingual master of business administration program, a spokeswoman for the university said. UC said it had already made changes to education programs inChina so that entry standards were the same offshore as they were onshore. An audit report published in March by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency says:
Transnational education continues to be the greatest reputational, academic and business risk area for UC’s international work.
A spokeswoman for UC said the university had begun work before last year’s audit visit to ensure that entry standards were the same for offshore and onshore students. This had been achieved with education programs, delivered offshore at Harbin Normal University and Hangzhou Normal University, but not yet with the MBA.
In a classic reversal of a situation a few years ago, Australian universities now stand to benefit from the recent tightening of student visa rules and a drastic fall in enrolments in Britain from India. In a similar scenario a few years back, Indian students had shunned Australian education providers after the country tightened immigration rules. British universities have experienced a fall of more than 30% in Indian enrolments while the percentage of the number of enrolments and visa grants forAustraliais reported to be in three figures. In the period from July last year to the end of March this year, Indians offshore lodged 8248 student visa applications, up 120%. The corresponding result for the No 1 market,China, was a 7.7 % decline. Offshore visa grants also rose strongly for the Indian market, with an 82.8% increase taking the total to 4238. Offshore grants for higher education, excludingIndia, were up 98% to 3147. In this category,China fell 17.5% to 12385.
Meanwhile Daniel Guhr, from the US-based Illuminate Consulting Group, predicts “decent growth” of 6 to 7% next year for Australian higher education after a flat 2012, assuming that visa streamlining and post-study work rights prove attractive. However, he suggests the academic quality of students will be lower:
Australia has seen its brand as an education destination damaged. Part of the perception is that Australia actually didn’t deliver the classroom quality it marketed. In a sense, it became a victim of its own recruiting success.
Australians spent almost $1 billion on overseas study last year, with experts crediting offshore campuses for stimulating two-way traffic in student mobility. While theUS remains the most popular overseas study destination, there is growing interest in Europe and neighbours such asIndonesia,Papua New Guinea andNew Caledonia. Last year outbound students spent more than ever in theUS, Italy, Singapore, Thailand, India, The Netherlands and Spain, pushing overall overseas educational spending to a record $910 million.
Applications for the 2013 Fulbright Scholarships open on 1 June, offering Australian students an opportunity to undertake research or study in the United States for 3 to 12 months. The scholarships, valued between $30,000 and $40,000, provide a unique opportunity for Australians to build long-term research and collaboration linkages with US universities. Applications are open from any field of study including, postgraduates, postdoctoral scholars, professional scholars and senior scholars. Applications close 20 August 2012.