Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

The future – whatever it may take

Monday, April 30 2018

This week I would like to touch on 2 related themes.

Firstly, the opportunity to engage on the reform agenda, most notably through a new approach to ACPET’s key event, our national conference and then on what does the future hold for Tertiary Education.

This year, our conference theme is “Understanding Today: Shaping Tomorrow”. These 4 words define and shape what members and the greater sector can expect.

Regular readers will be aware that this year we’re coming together in Canberra from August 29-31., and to be clear this year will build on our successful conferences of the past – however, it will also be very different.

Day 1 will be the highly successful Asia Pacific International Education Forum (APIEF). With education the nation’s 3rd largest export industry, the significance of this day grows each year, as does I’m happy to say its attendance. If you’re in the business of educating people from or in other countries, or are even looking to diversify in this direction, the speaker program and domestic and international professional networks this day offers its attendees will serve you very well. But also learn from the past and get your ticket early.

Day 2 will be all about the here and now. We will be looking at the spade (yes not a typo) and saying ‘yep, that’s a spade and this is what the spade looks like and does’. The program will look at helping members understand how to not only manage in the current environment effectively, but what’s more how they might succeed in it.

One event I am very excited about is that we will head to the Anzac Hall of the Australian War Memorial for the conference dinner that evening, where we’ll be seated beneath the bomber aircraft G for George. Without trivialising what this plane’s crewman endured and achieved one bit, there are more parallels than might seem obvious. This plane and its crew flew ninety operational missions over Germany and occupied Europe during the height of the bomber offensive of World War II. They had to weather the storm, advance under fire, make decisions in times of crisis and build camaraderie amongst the troops.

Sound familiar?

Day 3 will be about how we collectively ‘journey beyond George’. It will be about how ACPET and its members proactively lead the tertiary education sector to where students and Australian industry and business needs it to be.

If you’re sufficiently inspired, committed to the cause regardless, or simply enjoy making your money go further, early bird registration is open via the conference website. The full program will come together more completely over the next few weeks and I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop with key speaker announcements.

I would love to see you involved.

So, just what does the future hold?

Last week I was very intrigued to read a couple of Opinion Pieces in the Australian. Both sent some shivers down the spine.

In one piece Ian Hawke, the inaugural CEO and former Commissioner of TEQSA contemplated the journey ahead for the new Higher Education Standards Panel, under the leadership of Griffith University vice-chancellor Ian O’Connor.

The Panel’s initial task is to review Part B of the National Standards Framework, which define the type and character of institutions that can be registered to operate in the sector.

Many of you would say that at the moment that is a narrow possibly indeed.

Anyway, Ian reflects that the review represents the possibility of generational change in one of the foundational pillars on which the Australian sector is built.

Ian rightly points out that we must stand by for a vigorous debate.

Unfortunately, it will undoubtedly pit independent higher education interests against public sector interests and free marketeers against regulators.
The challenge for us as a sector is how to pursue reasonable changes to the standards, when opinions vary so widely.
At one end Universities will circle the wagons and protect their exalted status with public money and passion.

At the other end will be calls for standards that represent a modern economy and educational framework that allows growth and diversity and student choice (without penalty). There has been very limited growth in new providers despite stunning growth in the sector and Ian points out that no new Australian university has been established in Australia in the six-year life of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The debate will bring out views about the ties between teaching and research and just what a modern tertiary education institution should look like.

Of course, the links between higher education and vocational education and training will also be paramount.
Ian identifies many other challenging notions, including an acceptance that recasting the definition of the Australian university will pose many challenges for the new standards panel.

But let’s be honest, any change to existing universities and university aspirants will require changes to the rigidity of other policy and funding settings needs reform.

Otherwise Ian laments that the standards reform exercise will be little more than an academic exercise.

A second piece is a must read from the ever-persistent Peter Noonan about the demise of VET.

Peter discusses the importance of improving the produc¬tivity of those who are working, and also “human capital” — the skills and capabilities of the workforce.

He points to the 2015 Intergenerational Report, which states that “improving physical and human capital investment will all be critical to Australia’s future productivity performance”.

The federal Department of Jobs and Small Business forecasts that more than 90 per cent of the 948,000 new jobs expected to be created by 2022 will require a post-school qualification.

Peter rightfully though points out that despite the obvious importance of participation in tertiary education, participation rates in publicly funded tertiary education as a whole in Australia steadily will fall to 2031 on present trends and policy settings. This fall will be driven mainly by declining VET enrolments.

Peter points out participation rates in VET already are lower than they were a decade ago.
I highly recommend both articles to you.

However, so what?

The failures in VET policy and funding settings are hardly new. Nor is the protected space of public universities.

With VET publicly funded enrolments decreasing, apprenticeship enrolments in considerable decline, students of independent higher education providers financially penalised and the apparent need for Universities to pick up the slack – what does the future look like?

There appears to be many storm clouds on the horizon. Yes, the above two topics are high on the list. But so too is a lack of vision for the sector, the risk of regulatory over reach and an ever increasing sentiment that independent education is just too hard and the policy settings are against it.

What are the options if this is true?

Government would need to fund public infrastructure to meet the needs of over 3 million enrolments in private education now, but it would also need to fund subsidies to encourage students to take up their studies in a course and provider not of their choice.

There is already evidence that Industry is just getting on with it. The biggest growth in VET is in non-accredited training and in single competencies. Young people are happy to approach their studies in this way – to get a job and build skills as they advance.

And yet, no changes to vision, policy or programs.

Is the canary singing?

The scenarios of Australia’s education future are interesting indeed.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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