Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Policy musings

Monday, August 6 2018

I have been banging on for some time now about the importance of independent providers to Australia’s education industry. I am pleased to report that there is a bit more evidence this week.

NCVER has published the latest data on total VET students and again it is well worth the effort of reviewing.
The fast facts:

  • Total students trained in our system in 2017 remained fairly stable at 4.2 million, an increase of .7%.
  • Independent providers delivered 70% of the training, and TAFE 16%.
  • Training package students decreased by 4.3%, non-award courses 1.6% and skill sets declined by 22%

With record student satisfaction levels in both TAFE and independent providers, it is hard to conceive how the public debate can be about public versus private. This is an outdated way of viewing policy and it will not prepare Australia for a knowledge based future.

On the policy front, many of you would now know that Pr Stephen Parker last week released KPMG’s paper on Australia’s tertiary education system. The paper, ‘Reimagining Australia’s Tertiary Education System’s key premise is that Australia needs to reimagine its system, as it is behind a “veil of ignorance” about what the future will look like. 

You will find the report’s recommendations are largely consistent with those ACPET has been agitating for over a long period of time.
KPMG argue there is an unstable and outmoded distinction between higher education and VET, and inbuilt restrictions on innovation.

I am very hopeful this will reinvigorate the debate and create some momentum to reform our entire sector.

There have been some predicable responses already. Universities Australia does not support it as they are only supportive of more money for Universities! The Teachers’ Union of course does not support it as it dares to consider non-TAFE funding. Again, look at the numbers above – there is no credibility in any argument that does not include independent providers.

I encourage you all to read the report. However, for now just be across the ten recommendations  listed below, together with my brief comments :

1. A national tertiary education and training system should be introduced progressively through negotiation between the Australian Government, states and territories on the basis that the Australian Government takes primary responsibility for a single tertiary education funding framework for qualifications from Certificate level (AQF level 1) through to PhD (AQF level 10).

I certainly agree the system is terribly fragmented and each State and Territory are on their own journey. There is some risk in the notion of a Commonwealth takeover when you consider how they managed VET FEE HELP, however one system is certainly better than 9.

2. Australia’s tertiary education system should be structured, funded and regulated around a refreshed Australian Qualifications Framework and not around a division between higher education and VET.

Agreed. The boundaries confuse the discussion and it is time to crash through, while protecting the vocational nature of technical training and encouraging excellence in higher education.

3. The Australian Government should restore the demand-driven funding model for higher education and extend it progressively to other tertiary qualifications.

Agreed – hard to see why UA would not support. The key is appropriate monitoring and ensuring evidence, quality and the economy dictate funding decisions and not politics.

4. The Australian Government should ensure that the purposes for which grants are made to providers of tertiary education and student contributions are levied are clearly identified, particularly in relation to teaching and research. There should be clear accountability for the outcomes under each funding stream.

Again, any investment must be appropriately allocated and performance monitored. 

5. The Australian Government should establish an independent tertiary education pricing authority. Working within overarching financial parameters set by the government, the authority would:

  • determine the appropriate price for the teaching of various disciplines at different tertiary qualification levels; and
  • set the maximum amount of that price to be paid through student contributions, having regard to the expected private benefit at different tertiary qualification levels.

This is an important recommendation. It does not mean another ANTA but it would ensure Australia’s future knowledge base is built upon cogent evidence rather than the current system of short-term reactionary decisions and political ideology

6. Students should have access to a single income-contingent loan scheme that allows them to borrow in respect of student contributions across the full range of tertiary qualifications.

An important finding as the current differences in the loan schemes skew student decisions toward higher education. This is not an appropriate driver of decision making.

7. The Australian Government should tighten regulation in the VET sector, ensuring that regulation is responsive to the circumstances of tertiary providers, and integrate the regulatory activities of ASQA and TEQSA over time.

The caution here is by tighten it must mean better and more focussed regulation. That is, less focus on compliance and more attention to lifting and maintaining standards and rewarding good providers.

8. The Australian Government should develop an instrument to appraise and recognise excellence in teaching, as a companion to the Excellence in Research for Australia instrument that recognises excellence in research. A component of funding allocated to providers to support teaching should be contingent on teaching outcomes.

Teaching excellence is missing from current regulatory frameworks. This is a major gap and needs to be addressed.

9. The Australian Government should improve information available to support the operation of the tertiary education ‘marketplace’ and assist students to make good educational choices.

Information asymmetry remains a major problem, particularly in VET. The data is better in higher education but a student centric approach to meaningful information will help decision making.

10. The use of the term university should continue to be restricted by law but not be based on a TEQSA classification of different types of higher education providers. Universities should no longer be compelled to undertake research that leads to the creation of new knowledge and original creative endeavour in at least three broad fields of study.

Again, this is the right approach. Independent providers should be recognised as should the non-independent providers.

Lastly, a few weeks back I spoke about Martin Brooker an inspirational individual that will be speaking at our Canberra conference. This week I want to bring your attention to Mark Crosweller, another key presenter at our conference.

Mark is the Head of the National Resilience Taskforce at Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, and I promise you his presentation will not disappoint.

The narrative of Mark’s presentation is a familiar one, he speaks of crisis disasters, (perhaps on a larger scale than what our sector has seen) and navigating through the catastrophe. He touches on the importance of learning the big lessons the hard way, how detrimental blame can be, understanding the point of limitation and excepting inevitability. But the real crux of his presentation is about leadership, it has been said before that anyone can lead during the good times, it is in fact when the difficult times are upon us true leaders are exposed, and Mark has a real understanding of what it takes to be genuine leader.

This presentation offers a level of depth and some extremely valuable take-aways, I urge you to head to our conference website to see our full conference program.

So that is probably enough reading for your Monday morning.

Have a great week!

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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