ACPET

Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

To be or not to be..

Monday, May 11 2015

The last week has seen some important events in the tertiary education sector.

The Council of Australia Governments (COAG) Industry and Skills Council met in Melbourne on 8 May for its third meeting. The Council held separate industry and skills sessions. The industry session was chaired by the Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Government Minister for Industry and Science. The skills session was chaired by the Hon Simon Birmingham, Assistant Minister for Education and Training, accompanied by Ministers from the states and territories.

Minister Birmingham also chaired a forum with members of the business community, peak industry and training bodies and students. The topics are of interest, including the need for clear information and the value of the training to meet the aspirations of the individual, whether that is a job or career change, a specific course or skills set or full qualification.

Australia has a system that is seen positively across the world. That of course does not mean we should not review its strengths and weaknesses. The issue of qualifications or skill sets raises its head on an almost constant cycle.

Qualifications must be the currency of our system, don’t they?

I understand why employers demand recognition of skills sets. I agree they have a legitimate role in an industry developing occupational specific skills.

Yes they should be recognised in a training package. However, all of the evidence indicates that post school qualifications make a significant impact on a person’s employability and income. A qualification improves a person’s skills and knowledge and helps ensure portability across the labour market. That must be the focus of government funding for tertiary education, not any narrower approach.

Government has at its fingertips a very rich source of research on issues such as this. Before any change in direction, the evidence contained within NCVER might be worth a look.

Ministers also considered recent developments in the training market to ensure that investments by governments are geared to the needs of students and employers. Ministers agreed to undertake a review of the National Partnership agreement.

Let’s hope that means we may move back towards a national system, instead of the fragmentation plaguing a national approach today.

A quick overview of other topics shows some relevant issues including Industry advisory arrangements and the role of the Australian Industry and Skills Committee.

The new model places industry at the centre of the training product development process. This is a great move as Australia has long been proud of its industry led system. However, the committee is very one dimensional. It reminds me of the National Quality Council in an era foregone, where only industry and government were at the table.

Developing skills to meet the needs of the future labour market does not end with approving the qualification. Skills development actually comes through collaboration and partnership, between employers, their training provider and of course the student. It is the ability of the provider to interpret the needs of industry, customise their delivery to meet the need (based on the training package) and to support the student through the program that ensures the development of recognised qualifications.

Not involving quality training organisations results in industry relevant training that is not recognised – this does not help the employee (student) build portable skills for the future.  It is therefore surprising that no educator is involved in the Industry and Skills Committee. I do hope this is quickly adjusted, to ensure we develop industry led qualifications that can actually be interpreted and delivered by quality training organisations. Anything less risks a poor transition between finalising the package and its deployment.

Other topics at the Skills Council included the Review of Training Packages and Accredited Courses, the amendments to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011, improving consumer information and measurement of the outcomes of training and improving outcomes for indigenous students.

A busy agenda indeed.

The week also saw the NEAS national conference debate the critical issue impacting on the English language sector. A very informative event and great to see quality is back in vogue.

On a final note I also attended one of the Australian Government’s VET FEE HELP Reform consultations. There was a large attendance and it was fantastic to see all present working hard to improve the model. All acknowledged the problems and were committed to improving the system to ensure that qualifications have absolute integrity.

As this funding has become more important (as States and Territories reduce their expenditure), the integrity of the program is critical!

Rod Camm
ACPET CEO


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