TAFE Queensland struggles with declining enrolments

AFE Queensland’s financial performance is at risk because of declining student numbers, the state’s auditor-general has warned.

According to a Queensland Audit Office report, TAFE Queensland is struggling due to decreasing student numbers and revenue, without an equivalent reduction in expenses.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at Acacia Ridge's TAFE Skill Centre during the 2017 election campaign.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at Acacia Ridge’s TAFE Skill Centre during the 2017 election campaign.CREDIT:TRACEY NEARMY/AAP

“There are risks to its sustainability,” Auditor-General Brendan Worrall’s report reads.

“TAFE Queensland requires ongoing support from the Queensland government to remain financially sustainable.”

TAFE Queensland’s attempts to reduce expenses were unsuccessful, largely due to employee costs and system implementation issues, the report said.

TAFE was expected to make an $11 million loss in the 2019 financial year, while its operating surplus plunged from $19.96 million in 2017 to $1.42 million in 2018.

The competitive market also heaped pressure on TAFE, with 69 per cent of students enrolled in courses in Queensland being delivered by private providers.

TAFE Queensland delivered training to more than 120,000 students in 2017-18 across 530 programs.

The Queensland government provided grants and subsidies of $762.1 million to public and private providers last year, of which $336.7 million was given to TAFE Queensland.

Training Minister Shannon Fentiman accused the federal Coalition government of cutting funding but said no other provider could match TAFE Queensland for scale and location options.

“TAFE Queensland ensures high-quality outcomes for students and employers – more than 85 per cent of students are employed or in further study after completing their course,” she said.

In a letter to the auditor-general, TAFE Queensland chief executive Mary Campbell said the body serviced rural and remote areas of the state and supported students affected by the closure of private providers.

“This responsiveness and high quality of TAFE Queensland’s education and training provisions is fundamental to the successful operation of (the) vocational education and training sector in Queensland, however it must be acknowledged that this comes at a cost,” she said.

LNP leader Deb Frecklington accused the state government of not having a plan to manage the body.

“Under (Premier) Annastacia Palaszczuk and her TAFE system, we’ve had senior execs being wined and dined and flown around the world at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayer of Queensland,” she said.

Last year’s estimates hearings revealed TAFE’s hospitality expenses doubled in three years and $687,525 was spent on international travel.



Labor Pitches Skills And Digital Literacy Ahead Of Election

If elected on Saturday an Australian Labor Government will address Australia’s digital skills gap, establish centres of excellence for AI and blockchain, encourage more startup activity, and reform controversial encryption laws.

Each of the moves has been outlined by Shadow Minister for Human Services and the Digital Economy, Ed Husic, in the lead up to the federal election.

Today, Husic elaborated on several aspects of the Opposition’s digital strategy during an event in Sydney organised by InnovationAus and StartupAus. While Husic has become a regular at the town hall style gatherings LNP representatives have declined the group’s invitations, according to event organisers.

Skills Pitch

To address Australia’s digital skills gap Labor has pledged more vocational training for IT and more requirements that digital roles to be filled by local talent, with an emphasis on diversity.

Labor has promised 5,00 free Tafe places for IT and digital courses. Half of those places are reserved for women to address IT’s diversity problem. Today Husic revealed “where we can” the program would also target older workers transitioning to new roles in particular.

Husic said Labor would promote local talent in the digital economy but leave the door open for migrant workers to “ensure our skills are current”.

Shadow Minister for Human Services and the Digital Economy, Ed Husic speaking in Sydney. Supplied.

“We could fill every single vacancy here in Australia with a local and I’d still think there’s a role for skilled migration.

“From my point of view, if people are doing something smart somewhere else in the world and they want to come here or they’re needed here we should bring them here. Because we need to ensure that the knowledge base is continually replenished.”

Husic said Labor’s “smart visas” will mean foreigners with highly needed skills including digital can help bridge the deficit between local talent and industry requirements.

Businesses need to step up too, Husic argued, noting the practice of large corporations relying too heavily on 457 Visa holders for IT needed to stop.

Husic said a Labor Government would require large companies working on digital projects for government to ensure one in 10 of its involved employees are digital trainees or apprentices.

Labor’s shadow minister also reaffirmed the party’s commitment to reform the controversial encryption laws it helped pass late last year.

“This has been an awful bill in the way it has been put through parliament … This is having a devastating impact locally.”

Husic said several international firms are avoiding the Australian market because they believe storing data here is “not worth the risk”. Husic said Labor will push to reform the bill even if it remains in opposition.

However he ruled out repealing the legislation saying the challenge of bad actors misusing digital platforms was real and other jurisdictions were taking similar measures, although not as “hopelessly” as Australia.

Politicians Must Do Better On Tech: Husic

Regardless of which party wins government on Saturday Husic says a better understanding of technology is needed in Canberra.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Husic said of politicians digital literacy.

“I think the reality is parliamentarians are going to have to get across [digital technology] a lot more. Not just in terms of the profound impact of technology broadly but even from a government perspective.”

Every government department will deal with transformation projects, Husic says, and the politicians leading them need to understand the underlying technology to some extent.

“Gone are the days that you could just be there for the announcement and shove the project management to the IT help desk and hope that it just all worked out. That’s not going to work anymore. We’ve seen that through this term of this parliament with a number of digital derailments, some of which have not purely been because of the tech … A lot of it is governance.”


Beyond the dollars: what are the major parties really promising on education?

As voters head to the polls, around one-quarter will decide who to vote for on the day. Analysis shows climate change and the economy are foremost in voters’ minds.

But education remains a key issue, as evidenced by a flurry of education-related announcements in the final stretch of the campaign.

Here’s what you need to know about the major parties’ education commitments, and what the millions and billions here and there really mean.

Early childhood education and care

Two years of high-quality, play-based learning at preschool can have a significant impact on children’s development. It can put them close to eight months ahead in literacy by the time they start school. The benefits are greatest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which makes preschool a valuable tool for reducing inequality.

Labor has promised to make childcare free for most low-income households and to provide up to an 85% subsidy for households under $175,000. It has committed to funding an extra year of preschool for three-year-olds. This is evidence-based and builds on commitments by several states to support two years of preschool.

Labor has also pledged to increase wages for some early childhood educators, to be rolled out over a decade, and to reinstate funding for the National Quality Agenda, which lapsed in 2018. This reflects the importance of quality in early childhood services, to improve outcomes for children.

Both the Coalition and Labor are taking early childhood education and care seriously this election. from shutterstock.com

The Coalition is taking a more cautious approach to spending on the early childhood sector. It has pledged funding for four-year-old preschool, but only for another year, and it has not renewed funding for the National Quality Agenda.

The Coalition will likely retain the means-tested subsidy introduced as part of its major childcare reforms in 2018. While these reforms benefited an estimated one million lower-income families, the means test also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.

Advocates argue preschool should be seen as an integral component of the education system and a fundamental right for all children, and all parties should take a cross-partisan approach and commit to long-term funding. The major parties are certainly not at that point yet, but there are indications they’re heading in the right direction.


Given states and territories are largely responsible for schools, federal investment should be targeted where it can make the most difference. Two key areas are needs-based funding, to ensure additional support is available to students who need it the most, and central investment in research and evidence-based practice.

Both major parties have promised a national evidence instituteLaborhas allocated funds for it, with the Coalition yet to do so. This initiative reflects the urgent need to ensure evidence helps to shape the education system. The Productivity Commission has recommended such an institute, to connect educators and policymakers with the latest research on teaching and learning.

On funding, the Coalition wants us to judge it on its reforms to the schools funding package, which is now mostly modelled on the needs-based funding approach outlined in the Gonski Review. But funding has still not reached the recommended levels. The Coalition has supported the National School Resourcing Board to review these funding arrangements and develop a fairer model for all schools.

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Labor has promised to increase funding for schools. Labor’s offer would bring schools closer to meeting the levels of funding recommended by Gonski.

Funding isn’t a magic bullet, but it plays an important role in improving outcomes for all students..

Tertiary education

Vocational Education and Training (VET) has experienced a series of unsuccessful reforms over the past decade. VET plays an important role in the tertiary sector, so it’s good to see both major parties addressing this in their platforms.

The Coalition’s plan comes out of a major recent review of the VET sector and includes more money for apprentices and rural programs; the establishment of a National Skills Commission and a National Careers Institute; and simplifying systems for employers.

Labor has pledged to fund up to 100,000 TAFE places. It has also promised a major inquiry into tertiary education, looking at VET and universities side by side. This could potentially move us towards a fairer system that puts VET and universities on an even footing and better caters to the varied needs of students and employers.

Both Labor and the Coalition have committed to increased support for apprenticeships, through financial incentives for employers.

For universities, Labor says it will bring back demand-driven funding, which existed between 2012 and 2017, where universities are paid for every student studying and there is no limit on the number of students that can be admitted to courses. Evidence suggests this has been effective in boosting studies in areas where there are skills shortages, such as health, and also appears to have improved access to education for disadvantaged groups.

Due to costs, the Coalition has moved to a funding model based on population and university performance. It has also promised extra support for regional students and universities. This help address the large gaps in university participation between young people from major cities, and rural and regional Australia.

Making an informed choice

When casting our votes, we would do well to look past the dollar signs, and think about how each party is shaping an education system that will deliver quality learning for all Australians, from all kinds of backgrounds, from childhood through to adulthood.

The Coalition has delivered needs-based funding for schools and promises a greater focus on regional and rural students in all sectors. But there are some apparent gaps in early learning and tertiary policy and funding.

Labor has pledged more funding in all sectors. It has made a prominent commitment to early childhood education and care. However, Labor’s policies are expensive and would need to be implemented effectively to make sure they achieve the intended outcomes for students and deliver the financial benefit to the economy in the long-term.


Monash review calls for reforms to funding, student loans

Elizabeth Proust, chairwoman of the Monash Commission. Picture: Chris PavlichElizabeth Proust, chairwoman of the Monash Commission. Picture: Chris Pavlich


A new Monash University-initiated review has called on the federal and state governments to co-operate on reform to tertiary education to create a powerful new national funding agency and expand student loans to all accredited courses.

The review, the first from the newly instituted Monash Commission, recommends closer links between the higher education and vocational education sectors, and an integrated funding system overseen by an independent statutory body that would distribute funding on behalf of federal, state and territory governments.

The commission, chaired by businesswoman Elizabeth Proust, says Australia needs a “seamless” post-secondary education system that delivers lifelong learning to help people gain new knowledge and skills as they move through life and take on new jobs and responsibilities.

It outlines significant challenges, saying that Australia’s post-compulsory education system (meaning education that follows children’s compulsory per­iod of schooling) “lacks a shared sense of purpose and direction”.

Vocational education and training “has become uneven in funding levels, policy direction and quality”, and the system struggles to deliver equal education access to all Australians, it says.

The report, titled Three Recommendations for Renewal of Post-Compulsory Education in Australia, also says there needs to be more capacity to deal with rapid economic and social change.

A key requirement is to build a system that can offer new skills to a person several times across their lifetime, with courses that are flexible, affordable and time-saving. “Our current system of post-compulsory education and train­ing still seems funded and equipped to educate people only once,” it says.

It also warns that the present funding model for post-compulsory education lacks the ability to deal with new challenges. “It discourages the sort of ­diversity within and between ­institutions needed to make our system agile and flexible enough to serve our needs,” the report says.

The review’s first recommendation, for a national statutory funding and advisory body, is aimed at setting a “stable and non-partisan policy direction” and aligning resource allocation appropriately.

Its second recommendation would spread HECS-style income-contingent loans to all areas of post-compulsory education. It would offer every Australian a learning entitlement, consisting of a loan and a government subsidy, which could be dipped into at any stage of life.

It also would take into account micro-credentials, which add flexibility to the education system.

The final recommendation, for a sustainable financing model, is to separate government funding for teaching and research, with teaching money no longer being siphoned away to pay for university research. Governments would pick up the slack and bear the full cost of research.

Monash University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said the Monash Commission would undertake further public policy work. “We thought the university should have a role in bringing independent experts together, saying, ‘Here’s a question, ponder it, gather evidence and put that into the public domain,’ ” she said.

Tim Dodd travelled to Melbourne courtesy of Monash University.


The international student boom has destroyed higher education

By Leith van Onselen

Earlier this year, the Victorian Government called for a review of entry requirements into Australian universities after growing evidence that foreign students with poor English language proficiency are badly eroding education standards as well as placing undue strain on university teaching staff.

Immediately afterwards, academics admitted to Fairfax that they had lowered teaching standards and wrongly given passes to international students in order to maintain the foreign student trade.

Even the international student association called for greater regulation of overseas migration agents amid widespread cheating on English tests to gain access to Australian universities.

Yesterday, ABC business editor, Ian Verrender, penned a telling article arguing that Australia’s degraded higher education system is leaving graduates overqualified and undersupplied:

Missing from the same lengthy plan for our future [in the Budget], however, was anything that might help shift the focus of our tertiary education system from a dollar-driven export industry back towards its original intention: institutions for higher learning to equip Australians for the future…

On paper, it sounds like an unmitigated success story. Our education system is now our third-largest export industry, behind iron ore and coal.

Last year, more than half a million foreign students — 548,000 to be exact — clamoured for a spot at our universities. A further 220,000 attend other vocational education institutions.

They’re willing to pay for the privilege. All up, foreign students spent $32 billion in fees, a more than 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

Should that trend continue, Australia will overtake the United Kingdom as the second most popular destination for international students, possibly even this year.

Almost a third of these students come from China, while India and Malaysia come in a distant second and third.

The rapid growth of Australia as a centre for global learning, however, has not been without cost.

There are accusations among academics that in the race to attract more foreign students, teaching standards have slipped, with lecturers under pressure to pass students, even those with poor language skills who clearly can’t grasp the subject material.

Diligent educators who fail too many students run the risk themselves of being considered failures who quickly are moved on.

In addition, many foreign students enrol here as a soft way to emigrate, swelling the number of local undergraduates competing for jobs and depressing wages, initially in service industries while studying for degrees and later in their professions…

The sad truth is that vast numbers of young Australians are graduating with degrees in fields such as law, journalism and psychology, and there are nowhere near enough jobs to soak up the supply. Would-be barristers instead become baristas…

Well done Ian Verrender for calling a spade a spade. Blind Freddy can see that

Australia’s universities have morphed from “higher learning” to “higher earning”, as evidenced by the massive explosion in full fee-paying foreign students:

Australia’s education system has become an integral part of the immigration industry and the ‘Big Australia’ population ponzi – effectively a way for foreigners to buy backdoor permanent residency to Australia.

After all, the lobby group representing foreign students in Australia – the Council for International Students in Australia (CISA) – point blank admitted that students come here to migrate, not because of the quality of education on offer:

The Council for International Students in Australia said foreign potential students were attracted to Australia by the possibility of migrating here.

The national president of CISA, Bijay Sapkota, said… “For people coming from low socio-economic backgrounds there has to be a value proposition. If they go home they will not get value. So there has to be a possibility of immigration.”

It’s not like these concerns haven’t been raised before. Three recent Australian reports (here, here and here) have similarly raised the alarm about the flood of international students and the degradation of standards, as has lecturer Dr Cameron Murray. And yet all have been ignored and attacked by the rent-seeking Universities Australia.

The sad reality is that Australia’s universities are little more than giant rent-seeking businesses, which clip the ticket on the deluge of foreign students arriving in the hope of transitioning to permanent residency.

Instead of focusing on providing a high quality education and upskilling Australia’s population, the universities sector has become focussed on ramming through as many students as possible in order to maximise fees and profit.

The end result has been the dumbing-down of standards and too many university graduates chasing too few professional jobs.

The main beneficiaries from Australia’s rent-seeking university system are the vice-chancellors, whose pay has exploded to an average of $1 million on the back of the torrential student flood. Meanwhile, university students are stuck paying off expensive and increasingly worthless degrees, taxpayers are stuck writing-off unpayable debts, and the broader population is suffering under the never-ending population crush.

The federal government must put a firm leash on the university sector, beginning with removing the link between international students studying at university and gaining work visas and permanent residency.

Australia’s universities must be made to compete on quality and value alone, not as export businesses offering a pathway to backdoor immigration.


Higher education is failing our youth, leaving them overqualified and underemployed

They’ve become the forgotten generation. Or maybe just ignored.

A university student carrying books while wearing headphones.PHOTO: Education is now Australia’s third-largest export industry. (Unsplash: Element5 Digital)

It may have gone largely unnoticed, but the Federal Budget, handed down last week as the precursor to an election campaign, neatly included yet another tax tweak to the superannuation system that will allow those in retirement, particularly the wealthy, to stash away just a little more loot, to be subsidised naturally by the next generation.

Missing from the same lengthy plan for our future, however, was anything that might help shift the focus of our tertiary education system from a dollar-driven export industry back towards its original intention: institutions for higher learning to equip Australians for the future.

The university sector wasn’t entirely ignored last week. Buried in the tome was a commitment to invest $93.7 million in the university sector over four years for students attending regional universities or vocational education training facilities.

Just a few months ago, however, in the mid-year budget update, a further $328.5 million over four years was ripped out of research funding for universities, which included a freeze on PhD scholarships.

Knowledge nation

On paper, it sounds like an unmitigated success story. Our education system is now our third-largest export industry, behind iron ore and coal.

Last year, more than half a million foreign students — 548,000 to be exact — clamoured for a spot at our universities. A further 220,000 attend other vocational education institutions.

They’re willing to pay for the privilege. All up, foreign students spent $32 billion in fees, a more than 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

Should that trend continue, Australia will overtake the United Kingdom as the second most popular destination for international students, possibly even this year.

Almost a third of these students come from China, while India and Malaysia come in a distant second and third.

The rapid growth of Australia as a centre for global learning, however, has not been without cost.

There are accusations among academics that in the race to attract more foreign students, teaching standards have slipped, with lecturers under pressure to pass students, even those with poor language skills who clearly can’t grasp the subject material.

Diligent educators who fail too many students run the risk themselves of being considered failures who quickly are moved on.

In addition, many foreign students enrol here as a soft way to emigrate, swelling the number of local undergraduates competing for jobs and depressing wages, initially in service industries while studying for degrees and later in their professions.

A pathway to wealth or debt?

A degree no longer is an automatic gateway to a career. While you’re still more likely to get a job if you have one, there’s no guarantee it will be in your chosen field or even in a professional occupation.

A decade ago, around 85 per cent of new graduates had found a job within four months of leaving university. According to the most recent survey, that’s now dropped to about 73 per cent.

Then there’s the issue of full-time versus part-time work. Of those with a job, more than 32 per cent of men and a disturbing 41 per cent of women were engaged as part-timers.

Consider, too, that for our young full-time work isn’t what it once was. Nowadays, the norm is for our highly educated youth to be on an endless series of short-term contracts with little or no security.

While the survey paints a generally rosy picture about the benefits of higher education, it crucially does not incorporate the cost of a degree — and the associated debt — to compare with incomes. Are degrees really worth it?

Take psychology graduates. Only 60 per cent find employment within four months of graduation. Even if they could land a job in their chosen field, they could expect to be paid $57,600 but be saddled with a debt of close to $30,000.

The sad truth is that vast numbers of young Australians are graduating with degrees in fields such as law, journalism and psychology, and there are nowhere near enough jobs to soak up the supply. Would-be barristers instead become baristas.

A little over a year ago, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull warned young Australians that it would be wise to shun his own chosen academic path, law.

“I’m a lawyer. If you want to be a lawyer, you’ve got to do a law degree, full stop, but a lot of kids do law as though it’s some sort of interesting background qualification and it’s not,” he told Canberra radio station 2CC.

Our universities are churning out 15,000 law graduates each year. Nationally, there are only 66,000 registered solicitors. Try breaking into that field, even with an outstanding academic record.

But still, our universities offer the places and take the students, knowing full well there are no jobs. Then there are the huge numbers that drop out along the way, international students included, owing exorbitant debts with nothing to show for it.

Who pays, user or abuser?

While education as an industry has been a work in progress for more than 50 years, it really took off after 2009 when then education minister Julia Gillard announced two major policy shifts.

The first was to remove enrolment caps at public universities, to allow them to enrol as many students as they liked. And the second was to give vocational education students access to the government assisted loan program.

That second shift is now almost universally regarded as a disaster, a move that encouraged unscrupulous players to entice youngsters into high-paying courses, many of whom had no chance of passing, causing an enormous blow-out in costs.

It could be argued a similar if less overt trend is occurring in our higher learning centres, focussed as they are on attracting as many students as possible, simply for the revenue.

But the plans for global education domination may not quite go according to plan. In order to attract foreign students, institutions need to rank highly on the global league tables.

Not surprisingly, it is the big-name institutions such as UNSW, Melbourne University, Sydney University, RMIT and Monash that dominate the field and therefore attract the foreign students, leaving many regional campuses struggling.

But there’s a catch for the majors, many of which find themselves in a bind.

The best way to maintain global rankings is to turn out groundbreaking research. That, however, is under attack from continued federal cuts to research, undermining the very strategy of promoting higher education as an export industry.

Perhaps we’ve finally achieved what many have long argued for: a highly educated and flexible emerging workforce, willing to be sacked, up stumps and relocate at a moment’s notice.

But the combination of massive education debt, little or no prospect of working in your chosen field, minimal job security and depressed wages doesn’t augur well for our future.

That’s particularly so for those who expect young people to pick up the tab for their retirement.

ACPET blames burden of red tape for forced closure of BCA

The Australian Council for Private Education and Training has blamed the forced closure of the BCA National Training Group on the burden of red tape.

Former ACPET chairman Bruce Callaghan was the managing director of BCA, which went into liquidation last week. Its website now carries information for domestic and international students studying with BCA in Sydney and Darwin whose studies have been disrupted.

“Good providers across the independent tertiary education sector face a significant red tape burden placed upon them by several regulators,” said ACPET chief executive Troy Williams.

“Coupled with short-term ­decision-making by government about funding priorities, the challenges before independent providers are real. Today we’ve learnt these challenges will see a provider that has a strong track record of delivering quality outcomes close its doors.”

Mr Callaghan said he could not comment “at the moment”. According to ACPET, the liquidator was working with the sector’s regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, on BCA’s closing.


Make it your business to embrace the future

With the use of VR and AR technologies becoming more widespread, the number of applications in an educational context is growing. Picture: AFPWith the use of VR and AR technologies becoming more widespread, the number of applications in an educational context is growing. Picture: AFP

The onus on higher education institutions to prepare students for the future of work is more pressing than ever. With technology rapidly changing the way we work, students will need to keep up with the expectations of their evolving prospective roles.

But we also need to stop and ask the question: Is the speed at which we teach students keeping up with the rapid pace of change set by digital transformation? At the end of their formal education, will they be adequately equipped with the skills to thrive in industries that change so frequently?

Both HEIs and businesses are slow to revamp their education and training models because they often don’t collaborate with each other, according to a recent Cognizant study. Most businesses (56 per cent) and HEIs (72 per cent) are still in the process of identifying the skills required to complete the work of the future, amid a rapidly changing skills landscape, the study reveals.

As well as this, one of the key challenges facing HEIs today is developing a curriculum that is fit for both current and future jobs.

The fundamental issue is that our current education systems and workforce development programs have been slow to adapt to the new realities, creating a disconnection between how students learn and how institutions think they learn.

Because of this, HEIs need to collaborate with businesses to overcome these challenges and begin preparing for a skills future — a future which looks vastly different to what’s needed now. After all, institutions that don’t consider real-world contexts can’t help students develop the competencies they need to be successful.

Businesses and HEIs need to correct this misalignment. If collaboration is not achieved then we risk adding to the skills gap that we are seeing in STEM fields, where business unnecessarily looks for talent offshore.

Education needs to be personalised. The blanket solution of one-size-fits-all no longer cuts it and HEIs should be looking for new ways outside of traditional curriculum to engage students with learning content.

By collaborating with businesses and by identifying skills needed, institutions can curate flexible and adaptive learning content that is updated continuously. Such a collaborative relationship between HEIs and businesses would allow for the rapid identification of the skills needed in the future.

How? It’s a mix of implementing flexible partnerships, predictive and agile approaches to skills identification and curriculum change, and digitally driven modes of delivery to prepare people for the future of work.

For example, Amazon Web Services is building ready-to-use learning platforms for individuals to engage with content such as videos to gain skills, with managers tracking their progress.

Similarly, when business and HEIs are enhancing their learning and training models they should look closely at a new breed of innovative programs that, while led by instructors, are driven by artificial intelligence.

Students today learn very differently to how their parents did, and in a digital-only world they will expect engaging content that responds to them.

But with the rapid change of skills needed in varying industries, how can businesses and HEIs streamline this hyper-personalised process?

If you think of a classroom, the first thing that comes to mind is a room full of students with desks all facing one way towards a single teacher. However, this traditional mode of teaching doesn’t fit the personal needs of the modern student, and it can often be challenging for teachers to keep students engaged with the content.

But when you think of making learning more personalised for the student, the first thing you’d think of is more teachers: one for every student — something that simply isn’t affordable. However, there are alternative solutions to this problem available through technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality.

With the use of VR and AR technologies becoming more widespread, the number of applications in an educational context is growing. And we’ve already begun to see this occur in the education and corporate sectors. Just look at how the University of Newcastle is using collaboration and technology to enhance its training and education programs, with VR as a sustainable and lasting teaching tool in the nursing department.

In a textbook-goes-Netflix fashion, publishers have also begun to introduce AI to online textbooks that include supplementary readings, quizzes, and even a virtual tutor for struggling students. This AI-driven content offers a hyper-personal approach to online learning and can help steer students away from potential shortcomings.

With advanced technology available to foster a rapid learning environment for both students and employees, it’s up to businesses and HEIs to work together to unlock its full potential.

The problem is that this, unfortunately, doesn’t happen enough. Without collaborating with each other, businesses and HEIs lose out on the full potential of the technology.

To get to the future of work we have to first rewrite the rules of learning, and it is the responsibility of both sides to get there.

Without fundamental recasting of how we think about human learning and skills development and effective collaboration, many individuals, communities and entire economies will be left behind.

Manish Bahl is associate vice-president, Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work, Asia-Pacific.

Source AAP:www.theaustralian.com.au


Rogue education agents cause for concern

Illustration: Sturt Krygsman
Illustration: Sturt Krygsman

Among study destination countries, Australia stands out for its heavy reliance on education agents. Whether it be for cultural reasons, their perceived global awareness or ability to expedite the visa application process, these middlemen play a key role in the enrolment decision-making process of overseas families.

Happily, the overwhelming majority of agents operate in an ethical manner, acting in the best interests of students.

However, the bad behaviour of a small minority, particularly Australia­-based onshore agents, is becoming an increasing concern to both public and private quality education ­providers.

According to the Department of Education and Training, 73 per cent of international student enrolments in 2017 used an educa­tion agent to help them decide which institution and course was the right fit for them.

What is often not explained to students and their families is that these brokers will receive a commis­sion from the Australian education provider. In the worst cases, some agents will require a hefty upfront “paperwork” fee from families while not informing them of their separate commission revenue stream. Others have been caught out recommending a totally inappropriate course for a student simply because they stand to gain more financially.

Unfortunately, it is well nigh impossible for any study destin­ation country to effectively police or regulate such bad behaviour offshore. Governments in countries where these agents are based either do not understand the potenti­al exploitative role that they play or choose to turn a blind eye to what might be going on.

In recent years, Australia has been at the forefront in clamping down on bad behaviour of offshore agents. All of our CRICOS-registered education providers are now required to publish a list of their agents on their website and they must sign up to a stringent code of conduct for their dealings with them.

The majority of ethical agents and providers have responded well with initiatives such as perfor­mance measures that include student satisfaction with their agent, compliance and completion rates, and agent training programs.

At last year’s Australian International Education Conference, Education Minister Dan Tehan also committed his department to publishing performance data on all such brokers. Performance will be tracked according to visa applic­ation success rates, their students’ subsequent academic progress and other key performance indicators.

It is hoped that with greater transparency of agent performance, and by allowing comparisons to be made between them, providers and students will be able to make more informed choices. It might even provide an incentive for agents themselves to lift their game relative to their peers’ performan­ce.

Submissions to a policy paper have just been finalised. Even our national higher-education regul­ator, TEQSA, now requires evidence of agent performance monitoring as a key plank of provider re-registration applications.

Notwithstanding all the abovementioned quality assurance initia­tives, major concerns still exist regarding the insidious activ­ities of a small number of onshore education brokers in our major cities.

These agents have developed business models (in co-ordination with questionable education providers) whereby they don’t bother to invest in marketing or recruitment strategies offshore.

They simply wait for students to arrive in Australia and then lure students away from their original, often well-conceived, study plans. Whether it be free iPads, cashback deals or other inducements, large numbers of often naive young people are still being persuaded to sign up to education institutions other than the one that originally recruited them.

Sometimes the students themselves are complicit in this provide­r-jumping behaviour. The promise by a middleman, often from their same cultural background, of cheaper tuition, fewer lecture hours and “easier exam marking” can be very tempting for young people hoping to please their families back home. Again, what is never mentioned to the student is that the onshore agent may be earning upwards of 40 per cent commission of the tuition fee from their new education provider to make the enrolment transfer.

At this exorbitant commission rate, certain education providers will compromise the quality of their teaching and learning delivery to keep their doors open. As a result, by the time the student graduates from such a provider their certificate of attainment may not be worth the paper it is written on and their course-related employa­bility prospects will be significantly diminished.

Some international education stakeholders maintain that overseas students should have the right to choose to transfer to a new education institution if they are not happy with the one that originall­y recruited them. The argume­nt is sometimes made that an offshore agent may not have factored in their student’s aptitude for being able to complete a course such as Accounting compared with say Hospitality.

However, even the Council of International Students in Australia has agreed that students should be required to stay with their original principal education provider for at least six months. They endor­se the view that it takes at least this period of time for a newly arrived student to settle in and determine whether it is the right fit.

From our education institutions’ perspective, they have often heavily invested in recruiting these young people from offshore and the student has gained their entry to study in Australia only on the good-quality risk rating achieved by that provider.

In cases where students do choose to transfer, the secondary provider should have to wear the risk under the simplified student visa ­framework.

In all of this, we have to be careful not to point the finger of blame at all offshore or onshore-based agents. A small minority should not be seen as indicative of the entire­ sector.

Education brokers in many of our key student source countries, and here in Australia, have formed their own associations to monitor their members’ ethics and profes­sional standards. Nonetheless, while even a minority of mainly onshore middlemen continue to be permitted to engage in bad behaviou­r, then Australia’s hard-earned reputation is at risk.

Our regulators need to better enforce all mechanisms at their disposal to protect Australia’s standing as a world-class study destination.


Why We Need To Make Uni And TAFE Free Again

Study, assignments, parties, and new friends await tens of thousands of students starting uni and TAFE this month. So does an enormous debt.

It takes the average student a decade to pay off their study debt.

This is as unfair as it is unsustainable. We’re burdening young people with crushing debts for the basic right of education at the time they are starting off in life. They are already face the skyrocketing cost of living, difficulty affording a home and high youth unemployment.  When I was a university lecturer, many of my students were working up to three part-time jobs just to make ends meet.

That’s why the time for free higher education has well and truly come. Giving everyone access to fee-free education will give everybody a fair go and help break cycles of disadvantage. It makes it much easier to keep up with rapid advances in technology, to innovate and for long term social and economic sustainability.

Is there a course on debt management?  Image: Getty)

Fee-free higher education is not a new concept. For 15 years, beginning with the Whitlam Government, university and technical college were free, allowing thousands to complete their education without the burden of debt.

READ MORE: Changes To HECS Repayments And Loans Set To Hit Uni Students

I meet people every single day who tell me they could only go to uni back in the day because it was free, that they were the first in their families to do this for the same reason. More than 40 current politicians have benefitted from fee-free uni. Scott Morrison did three years of his degree while uni was free before the Hawke Labor government reintroduced fees. These days, the same Science degree would see a student graduate with a $28,000 debt.

Now someone studying a Bachelor of Arts, like Bill Shorten did partially for free in the 80s, would graduate with a debt of at least $19,000. Even former PM Tony Abbott, who famously tried to introduce US-style $100,000 degrees by deregulating course fees and cutting public funding for universities, studied at a time when university was free.

Some of Australia’s free uni recipients.  (Image: AAP)

For too long, the major parties and the MPs who received a free uni education have treated higher education as a piggy bank with round after round of budget cuts. As a result, higher education looks more like a business with students as customers, rather than as a way to learn and build the skills needed to solve the problems of tomorrow.

We shouldn’t just introduce free universities and TAFE because it was a good idea in the past, but because it is absolutely essential for the future.

Technology is rapidly changing the way we work and learn. Students graduating today will be working in industries we haven’t even imagined yet. If we are to take advantage of automation and technological change, we need to ensure that all people, especially those already in the workforce, are able to retrain and re-skill without incurring huge debts over and over again.

READ MORE: Revealed: The Best Uni Degrees If You Want To Get A Job Fast

How could we afford free education, you ask? It’s all a matter of priorities. We can more than pay for it by scrapping fossil fuel subsidies for big mining companies and charging them royalties for extracting offshore gas which would raise tens of billions of dollars.

Given the choice between subsidising an industry that is destroying our planet and funding our future, I would hope we have the courage to choose the second option every time.

Smart investing. (Image: Getty)

If we did, we would be in good company. Germany, Norway and Finland already have free higher education, and New Zealand’s Labour party have begun the process of making university degrees free.

By ditching the debt, we all stand to benefit from an education system that gives everyone lifelong access to learning and retraining in TAFEs and universities. It’s the fair way to prepare us for futures we have not yet imagined.