Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Something to guide the conversation

Monday, October 16 2017

Last week I commented on a recent Australian Institute of Company Directors forum that drew attention to the skills issues confronting Australia in the face of technological change. The AICD highlighted the need for a conversation or national debate about how we might address these issues.

Well, last week we saw the Business Council of Australia (BCA) ‘step up’ with a detailed and comprehensive report that not only gives its perspective on the education and skills challenges, but also the solutions. The report Future-Proof - Protecting Australians through education and skills, provides a detailed explanation of the challenges and a ‘blueprint’ for reform. BCA head, Jennifer Westacott launched the report at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

While the report highlights the march of technology, I was struck by a more positive note in relation to the impact on our workforce. While some reports forecast a ‘wipe out’ of some jobs and industries, the BCA report notes the impact is likely to be on tasks with a strong need for skilled workers who can “augment technology to solve problems, streamline processes and deliver a superior customer experience”. So it’s not all doom and gloom - at least according to the BCA.

Not unlike the AICD, the BCA sees the critical challenges as:

  • Getting Australians skilled and re-skilled to take advantage of technological change
  • Getting critical cohorts of Australians into new jobs - including young people and displaced workers
  • Lifting productivity and wages

It’s hard to argue with any of that. The real challenge is making it happen and the BCA has laid out 14 proposals that range from the objectives for the education and training system right through to the mechanics of setting tertiary course pricing and system governance.

For ACPET and its members the significant attention given in the report to sorting out the funding shemozzle that characterises and drives so many of the issues in the tertiary sector is welcome. ACPET and others like the Mitchell Institute have long argued this must be a priority for reform. The nursing case study in the report highlights not only the differing treatment of students across jurisdictions and sectors but also the complexity of these arrangements. How is a prospective student or employer to make good decisions with the system against them?

The other aspect of the report that grabbed my attention was the focus on not only giving greater power to students in their choice of course of study and provider, but to ‘open up’ the opportunities for them to tailor their skilling program and receive support for it through the proposed Lifelong Skills Account. This is a fundamental change from the current model that has governments largely determining what will be funded. There are necessary safeguards and limitations proposed, but it nonetheless brings a new dimension to how skill needs are identified and addressed.

The BCA report is ambitious. Some of it perhaps too ambitious. But it provides a much needed focal point for the conversation that the AICD called for.
The BCA is to be congratulated on this report and ACPET looks forward to the consultations on it to come.

And the reforms roll on
A week or so ago saw the ABS revise the value of Australia‘s international education sector to $28 billion in 2016-17, up 19 per cent on the previous calculation of $23.6 billion. This follow a major data adjustment.

I’m thinking of inviting the ABS guys around to my place and see if I can get a similar upward adjustment!

Anyway…regardless of the adjustment, our nation’s third largest export is one to be proud of and one we must look after and protect. The Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, clearly has this intent with the revised ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) Standards he announced on Thursday.

The main change amends the definition of an ELICOS course to bring all intensive English language courses registered on CRICOS, including vocational education and training (VET) courses, within the scope of the ELICOS Standards.

This means that the Standards will apply to all providers who deliver courses which are solely or predominantly of English language instruction to student visa holders in Australia. Other amendments include:

  •  clarifying that the scheduled course contact hours for ELICOS courses is 20 hours of face-to-face tuition per week
  •  providing greater detail regarding how providers need to structure courses for under 18 year olds

Some extensive and misleading media coverage accompanied the release of the Standards, with reports indicating “tougher” or “compulsory” English Language testing for international students overstating one small part of the changes.

English language providers offering direct entry programs will not, as some reports indicated, be required to undertake additional assessment of students.

The revised standards will apply from 1 January 2018 and are the result of extensive consultations with ACPET and other peak education bodies and English language providers. The new Standards can be accessed here.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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