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The Commonwealth government has elevated skills training to be a key economic driver by promising that all Australians would be entitled to government-funded training if the states and territories sign up to a new federal government plan. And the onus is clearly on the states to ensure only quality providers access public funding and that TAFEs benefit from the extra $1.75 billion that would be made available. The national training entitlement would mean anyone from Year 10 students to retirement age would be eligible for taxpayer-funding to get qualifications up to a Certificate III. This would include language and literacy courses. Stephen Conway, Chair of TAFE Directors Australiasaid the commitment was welcome, along with the new government guidelines to introduce evaluations on VET quality. He said these were necessary after the early failures to open up the training market, only to find rorts and industry concerns about skills quality. “The Prime Minister’s commitment is pleasing, as we have seen early experiences of open competition funding in jurisdictions likeVictoria, where colleges collapsed, student fees lost, a grab by private colleges to seek access to publicly funded courses, with confidence in the training system shaken,” said Conway.
As Victoria’s skills minister vigorously defended Victoria’s skills reforms and Rob Camm argues there is room for both private and public providers, an unpublished quarterly report from Skills Victoria reveals TAFE seems to have “hit the wall” in Victoria’s open training market, with unprecedented private college growth. TAFEs now have less than half of the government subsidised enrolments. While Victorian training enrolments have soared 44% in the three years since the state government started opening government training funds to private competition, the growth has been monopolised by private colleges where enrolments have more than quadrupled since 2008, rocketing 112% last year alone. TAFEs’ market share has shrunk from 66 to 48%, after slow enrolment growth in 2009 and 2010 disappeared completely last year. Institutes were unable to fill the gap with fee-for-service activities, which declined 4 % last year. The Victorian Government says that TAFE market share needs to be seen in the context of the overall growth, with TAFE annual reports showing that the sector continues to report a strong funded surplus. While the Commonwealth government says it would press the states and territories “to set out a plan for navigating their TAFE systems” through ongoing reforms, Leesa Wheelahan (LH Martin Institute) says it doesn’t have substantive policies to protect TAFE from “predatory state governments that are determined to introduce markets at all costs”. John Ross (The Australian) observes that, for a sector that attracts precious little interest, vocational education and training sure draws an awful lot of rhetoric. And he obviously thinks a lot of it’s empty. John Mitchell writes that Skills Victoria’s implementation of market-based VET funding has raised some fundamental issues for the sector, not the least of which is “whether governments want public providers to survive, be sold off or left to wither on the vine.” In particular, the experimentation has raised the question of whether governments are willing to continue subsidising regional TAFE institutes, because regional institutes will always be more expensive to operate than metropolitan ones surrounded by dense markets.
With ten new med schools having been established over the past decade, hundreds of international medical students could miss out on internships when they graduate next year due to a “tsunami” of domestic graduates and a shortage of clinical places. A report on the impact of international medical students on Australia’s workforce needs has found that between 1996 and 2009, international medical students here grew from 960 to more than 3000. During that time, internships were available to virtually every international medical graduate who wanted one. In 2010, for example, 2380 domestic and international graduates applied for 2394 spots. In 2013, however, the situation is likely to change. Lead researcher Professor Lesleyanne Hawthorne, of theUniversityofMelbourne, says the clinical infrastructure that provides the internships required for registration has not kept pace with a huge spike in domestic graduates, creating unprecedented competition for places.
With proposed redundancies at Sydney University now before Fair Work Australia, 83 of the staff offered either voluntary redundancy (100) or teaching only positions (64) have appealed, while 20 have accepted the new teaching roles and 23 have accepted the preliminary voluntary redundancy. Staff have described the process as “deeply unfair… based on the application of crude, arbitrary and retrospective criteria”, which included a requirement to have published three papers in the three years to November 2011. The university says the research metric had yielded “a pool of people to make a more serious deliberation on”, with 640 staff on the original list.
The new university student services and amenities fee will be indexed after legislation passed the Senate. The Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No.1) 2012 also formally recognises the newly established MCD University of Divinity inMelbourne as an approved higher education provider. The bill clarifies indexation arrangements and updates definitions of courses of study in dentistry and veterinary science. Delay of the legislation meant the annual increase linked to the consumer price index would begin a year later on January 1, 2013. This would make the maximum amount of the student services fee would be $263 as of January 1 2013.
Three Australian researchers are among a who’s who of international talent to have accepted generous contracts with the Saudi Arabian King Abdulaziz University. It lists 107 “distinguished scientists” on its website, 60 of whom reportedly signed contracts of affiliation with the university last year. As Science magazine reported in December, 60 of the world’s most eminent and highly cited researchers had been approached by KUA with offers of $US72,000 ($68,000) salary, research grants and PhD students. In return, the researchers needed to commit to spending four weeks a year at the university and agree to add it as a second affiliation to their name on Thomson Reuters ISI list of highly cited researchers. Science put forward the theory that KAU was, in addition to massively adding to its research collateral and collaboration, setting the university on a rapid upward trajectory on international university rankings. Indeed, the two eminent Australian researchers on the list who spoke to The Australian HES, said they thought a primary motivation was to distort various league tables. “From where I sit, they are utterly and cynically trying to game the rankings,” a mathematician fromNewcastleUniversity, Jon Borwein, said. “But maybe they are also trying to make a difference by getting good people to visit them. Will it make a difference? I don’t know.” Course he knows.
Victoria’s Holmesglen TAFE is lobbying hard to secure more Commonwealth supported places for its degrees, arguing it is well placed to support disadvantaged and non-traditional students. But it hasn’t been helped by a Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) report which found Holmesglen’s bachelor of business executive administration had an attrition rate of almost 50 per cent and its bachelor of business accounting a rate of 31.3%. But Holmesglen chief executive Bruce Mackenzie argues the encouragingly low attrition rate of just 11% for its Commonwealth supported Bachelor of Nursing highlights how effective TAFEs can be. “If you have Commonwealth supported places then you should be able to do very well with any sort of student because you have better resource capacity to support them. Our nursing degree clearly shows that,” Mackenzie said.
Claire Field (CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training) argues that it is time to move away from treating HE institutions differently based on their ownership, towards treating them differently based on their performance. In the training sector, state and territory governments increasingly recognise the importance of a diverse training sector that puts quality first and ownership second. It’s here that we’re seeing forward-looking governments implement skills reforms that place credentials, track records, student demand and graduate outcomes ahead of ownership as a means of funding and regulation. Yet this hasn’t flowed through to higher education. Despite uncapping enrolments in Commonwealth supported places and boosting participation by disadvantaged students, the narrow application of funding changes only to universities is “disappointingly persistent.” By excluding non-university higher education providers from these reforms, growth in student numbers will come at the expense of quality and diversity and at an increased cost to government, taxpayers and business. She says the Commonwealth government risks driving homogeneity in higher education, or worse, providing a strong incentive for universities to maximise enrolments due to an inability to realise a fee premium for quality.
- See also Progress comes with some pain, in which Field reflects on ACPET’s 20 years in the field.