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Back to the future

Monday, November 28 2016

Before I talk about the topic of the day (for far too long), I am pleased to report that the first meeting of the Council for International Education was held last week on 23 November, with Ministerial members and experts, (including three ACPET members) beginning their collaborative work to maintain and build a “vibrant, competitive and sustainable” international education sector.

Chaired by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham, the importance of excellence at all points of a student’s journey was discussed by the Council, from applying for a visa, to post-study engagement through alumni. The quality of life and learning experiences for visiting students were acknowledged as central to the success of the sector, as well as the chance to contribute our communities. The Council will soon finalise its priorities for 2017.

ACPET is proud to support the work of our members that contribute to growth and quality in international education, but most importantly sustainability, in what is now a $20.3BN industry benefitting Australia in so many ways - economically, culturally and socially. 

In terms of VET, as you read this while there has been a lot of noise, the VET Student Loans Bill has still not passed the Senate.

It may even be today, however regardless we are all aware of the gravity of this. Understandably the Government remains committed to getting the changes through. However, we are all now faced with the parlous situation of there being four weeks left until this new scheme is meant to kick off.

That is four weeks to get applications in, processed by the department, student information out (regardless of approval or otherwise) and the list goes on. The logistics of contacting and encouraging all current students to ‘opt in’ through the VET Portal should also not be underestimated.

The ALP has engaged in the debate this week. While signaling that they would not delay the passage of the Bill, the Leader of the Opposition in a letter to the Prime Minister stated:

“…. However, I remain deeply concerned that the consequences to the vocational education sector will be devastating if these measures are not correctly implemented.

I am particularly concerned about the proposed course list. In my discussions with stakeholders, it has been made clear that the current proposed approved course list and flawed allocation of courses within cap categories risks costing thousands of jobs, including forcing the closure of quality vocational education providers and limiting the pathways of many Australians seeking skills to pursue future employment.”

The Shadow Minister reiterated: “I am deeply concerned that quality providers will be hit hard if the Government doesn’t get these reforms right,”

We are already dealing with significant closures and job losses and of course the concern about the flawed model and risks of inadequate implementation are paramount in our minds.

Current VET FEE HELP providers are still learning more about the changes every day, with further changes to reporting and reconciliation arrangements being advised of late last week.

Rushed indeed.

So on a final note you would be aware that for some time I have been calling for a long term, strategic approach to the reform of VET policy. Rather than rehashing those ideals, I read with interest a very insightful piece last week in Campus Review by the well renowned Jonathan Chew. You would recall that in research commissioned by ACPET early last year, Jonathan identified the problems in the VFH scheme well in advance of others.

In this current piece, in contemplating the reform agenda, Jonathan askes three questions that need to be considered to ensure that the new scheme takes VET financing on a sustainable forward trajectory:

First, in the design of the new VET Student Loans scheme, do we have enough of an understanding of what has/hasn’t worked based on recent experience?

Second, what do we now know about how to differentiate between the reputable, the risky and the unethical providers?

Third, do we have the appropriate and future-proof governance arrangements in place to manage VET Student Loans in the broader context of tertiary education funding?

He concludes that taking the opportunity to understand and address the deeper systemic issues of the past will ensure that the benefits of income-contingent loans are preserved without risking a repeat of history.

Jonathan’s think piece can be found at:

It is well worth the read. The right questions are being asked across the sector, but is it too late to contemplate such a cogent argument.

Rod Camm


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