Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Don’t mention the Rugby!

Monday, September 19 2016

Last week saw me attend the Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand (ITENZ) conference.

ACPET has had a long standing relationship with ITENZ. However, the purpose of this year’s visit was to cement a relationship with our NZ counterparts that would develop future business opportunities for our respective members.

I am pleased with the outcome, having signed an agreement, which was signed with some ceremony at their National Awards Dinner in Christchurch. The agreement will see, with some hard work to follow, us pursing opportunities for our members in:

  • The development of international workshops and conferences to expand opportunities into new markets
  • Working with our respective governments on opportunities for collaborative transnational education
  • Access to high caliber professional development, and
  • Periodic forums on educational trends and developments.

I do look forward to forging our new relationship. I did suggest that our new agreement and the reference to NZ in our Constitution should enable the All Blacks to play for the Wallabies. More work to do on that front.

I should also say farewell to ITENZ CEO of 15 years Chuck Wareham. Chuck announced his retirement at the Awards Dinner and he is looking forward to his next chapter. Good luck Chuck.

While in NZ I had the opportunity to listen to the reform narrative of the Government through the Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Steven Joyce and to talk to the many providers on how reform was playing out ‘on the ground’.

NZ may be a short flight from Australia but it did seem a world away.

The Government has a commitment to strong stable reform. They are committed to working with the private sector and growing Tertiary Education across the Board. The Minister recognised the importance of constantly lifting the quality bar and recognised some of the challenges they have encountered in this endeavor in their public providers and private.

There was no short-term rhetoric and an understanding that reform and quality comes from stability, consistency and collaboration. The providers had a real sense that they had the opportunity to engage and influence.

This caused me to reflect on where Australia is in its Tertiary Education reform journey.

We soon will hear about the latest changes to a piece of the Tertiary Education pie (yes VET FEE HELP (VFH)). While I have no insights into what this might look like, I still wonder on what process is being used to identify and drive the change.

Major change must start with a clear vision. If you don’t know where you are going, how can we know how to get there? This seems to ring true in Tertiary Education. How can we contemplate significant change without a clear direction and road map for the future?

Higher Education reform remains an absolute priority for our members. Yet, despite the sector growing its market share and high quality results in the QUILT survey there have been no clear moves to address the inequity that sees students of private higher education providers paying a cash grab represented by an administration fee of 25%.

In terms of VET, Policy 101 tells you that the key to reform is to first define the problem you are trying to fix. I remain unconvinced that there has been a deliberate public policy process focused on the real problem.

There has been considerable attention on VFH.

However, VFH accounts for just 6% of enrolments so one wonders how reform to this scheme can be made in isolation of the much needed changes to Federal-State relations in VET. Reducing government expenditure (outside of VFH), State and Territories recreating regulation, South Australia walking away from the National Agreement without consequences, stalling apprenticeships, a complete disconnect between State and Territory purchasing and VFH and cost shifting are all real issues that need to be addressed.

The recent CEDA report identifies the need to urgent attention, however there appears to be an imperative to first fix VFH in isolation. I do hope deep thinking is underway on the other elements.

I read with interest the Australian media last week about the latest federal government quality approach, where it has apparently suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to 19 private colleges, as it moves to ‘stamp out widespread rorting of the vocational education loans scheme.’

Four top-tier accountancy firms — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and McGrathNicol — are carrying out the so called forensic inquiries as the Department of Education launches its ‘most aggressive action yet’.

Now what interests me about this?

I am certainly a big supporter of appropriate audits and in ensuring value in public expenditure.

What these firms know about education of course is anyone’s guess.

However, what intrigues me is that there is no reference in the story or the narrative about why it has taken so long to implement checks and balances and how unprecedented growth was approved without appropriate audits.

No action was taken or any interventions obvious while VFH payments grew from $117M in 2010 to around $3B in 2015. Yes, someone had to approve this expenditure. Can anyone believe that financial audits were not part of the scheme design? As enrolments grew from 26,100 in 2010 to 272,000 in 2015, Tuition fees in some providers skyrocketed and outcomes in some were abysmal, and yet – nothing.

My point is that yes actions must be taken but the problem has been defined as ‘how to stop the so called ‘Dodgy provider’.

A reasonable (albeit too late) desire certainly but might I suggest that this is the symptom and not the cause. Good media briefing perhaps but not a strategic public policy process.

The problem that needs attention of course sits around a lack of vision, direction, and genuine leadership of the reform journey. I again point out that how can we restructure a system if we don’t know where it is going or what the desired outcomes are?

The Tertiary Sector has a critical role in producing skills and knowledge for the future. Yes, in fueling our industries of the future. This requires certainty of investment and confidence in both industry and students in the direction of the system.

A student loan scheme does have an important part to play.

Even in the absence of a clear direction, the ‘problem’ has arisen from a complete failure of appropriate monitoring of the program, which should have seen a close watch on enrolments, outcomes and expenditures and rapid intervention where signs of abnormal behavior appeared.

None of these steps were taken while the trouble unfolded.

Blame the provider has been a successful strategy. Yes, the behaviours we have read about are an outrage. However, just fixing this is an abrogation of responsibility for steering the sector and for allowing this to happen in the first place.

I am forever hopeful that considerable research, analysis and deep thinking is underpinning the consideration of the future loan scheme. I again have no insight as the redesign has happened behind closed doors with no engagement or testing of the actual reforms with the sector.

Yes, there has been a national road show which was a good move. But soon we, like you, will read about the reform in the press. I must go back to my public policy texts as this seems to be the highest risk approach. Quality private and public advocates can make a real contribution to getting this right.

The changes in July 2015, which made a real difference were tested with the sector first and everyone participated with one view in mind, how to get the changes right and protect students. Changes were made in this engagement and the reforms worked.

I want Australia to begin talking again about its quality vocational education and training sector. This does need to include a loan scheme that is fit for purpose.

I fear the unknown and unfortunately I have been given no insight into the road ahead.

I again will fall back to Prof Ian Harper on what has gone wrong in VFH, ‘the failure of VET comes down to inadequate information for students, quality assurance failure, no focus on outcomes and the wrong funding incentives’. Professor Harper also emphasized that the funding was put in the hands of the providers, not the students and the importance of exiting poor providers quickly.  There are significant lessons in the NDIS about how to do this properly and I hope the policy process has reviewed this.

I look for these issues being addressed in the changes ahead.

Of course there is also talk about the need for much more regulation, but are we missing the point? Again, Prof Harper ‘We need regulation but there is a generational shift in the way consumers find trust in service providers. Customer feedback is the new way.’
Let’s hope this message is also being heeded.

While the New Zealand Qualifications authority is implementing a student (and employer) feedback model, there does not appear to be such a move here.

We in the industry though can’t sit back and wait.

As I have already discussed in previous editions, ACPET’s new Quality Endorsed Model will focus unashamedly on the student experience and their comments and feedback. Everything from sales approaches used, mystery shopping and the quality of education and support will be adjudged by the students – seems a novel idea.

I would like to now touch on two different topics.

PwC- Skills for Australia -Service Skills Organisations has announced that it will deliver its Higher Level Apprenticeship and Traineeship Pilot, which will see PwC collaborate with some of Australia’s largest employers to establish higher apprenticeships programs in which participants will have the opportunity to complete a diploma, advanced diploma or associate degree.

PwC National Skills Leader Sara Caplan said apprenticeships have traditionally been associated with trade occupations but there is a key opportunity to develop apprenticeship programs in non-traditional sectors and to create high quality vocational pathways for people wanting to move into a fulfilling career in a range of professional and business services sectors.

This new model of engaging people in employment through an apprenticeships style approach - hands on learning and study. Please read here for more information.

Another topic that has been raised with me often is the complexity of copyright. Members tell me that to deliver quality educational outcomes, they need to be able to quickly access and use information from a wide variety of sources including textbooks, websites, newspapers and journals. However, more often than not, there is real uncertainty around what can and can’t be legally used. If any teacher copies third party material and distributes it for educational purposes without prior permission of the copyright owner, there is a concern that the institution may potentially be breaching copyright.

Well support is at hand! The educational statutory license, administered by Copyright Agency, enables teachers to provide the most up-to-date resources for their students by allowing immediate access to a wide range of materials including all images and whole articles. It means your institution is copyright compliant and your fees contribute to the publication of new resources in the future.

I recommend that if you would like further information, please see

Rod Camm


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