“Business as usual” after surprise Australian election result

Australian international education stakeholders have returned to “business as usual” after the weekend’s federal election failed to live up to expectations that a new Labor-led government would take power.

Expected changes to Australia's education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/UnsplashExpected changes to Australia’s education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/Unsplash

The shock result on May 18 saw the Liberal-National Coalition retain power to defy the majority of opinion polls, and has received a mixed reception from the industry as the promise of substantial reforms under Labor all but disappeared.

English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker said the government retaining power provided “continuity to the international education sector” and added that it ensured a continuation of the current work being undertaken as part of the National Strategy for International Education 2025.

“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need”

In the lead up to the election, the Labor opposition had promised to revamp both the national strategy as well as the overarching Council for International Education that oversees its implementation.

While a stabilising factor, others observe the government returning to power means the same concerns and lobbying efforts from before the election continue.

In particular, Labor pledged $10 billion in university funding over ten years, a move peak bodies believed would reduce reliance on international student revenue.

“The worry now is to the effect that universities will now look to alternative revenue sources and that usually will mean they’ll up the ante on their international student recruitment,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students because this additional revenue expectation is not now forthcoming.”

Both Universities Australia and the Group of Eight, which lobbied the government to undo a series of funding freezes, welcomed the return of the government but renewed their calls to return funding to previous levels.

“We must ensure young Australians – especially from battling communities really doing it tough – don’t miss out on the chance of a university education,” said UA chair Deborah Terry.

“Our focus must continue to be on opportunities for all Australians – because without those opportunities, our economy will be less competitive and our people and communities will miss out.”

A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses

However, Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, warned universities may have their funding squeezed on dual fronts if scrutiny of English language proficiency and the impact of temporary migrants including international students on capital cities’ infrastructure continues.

“[Education minister Dan Tehan] has already indicated that he’s pursuing the English language standards issue with TEQSA and so I think that’s a clear signal that he’s interested in whether the required English is, in fact, being achieved prior to commencement,” he told The PIE News.

A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses and a reduction in universities’ activities, Norton continued, before adding it wasn’t a given that the scrutiny would lead to significant changes.

“Counter to that, I think [the government is] still very much seeing international students through an export and business focus and that will make them reluctant to act.”

From a vocational perspective, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (formerly ACPET) chief executive Troy Williams said his organisation was “comfortable with the reelected government’s approach to the vocational education and training sector.”

In particular, he cited the Joyce Review into vocational education, released shortly before the election was announced, as a commitment by the government to improve the sector.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students”

“ITECA was extensively involved in the Joyce Review consultation process and endorses its broad direction that seeks to speed-up the development of new qualifications, and revision to existing qualifications, so as to ensure that they provide students with job-ready outcomes,” Williams said.

While not directly related to international education, it has been understood the review could in part increase the global competitiveness of Australian vocational education.

Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said the election result meant his organisation would continue their lobbying efforts, particularly around the axing of the Endeavour Scholarshipprogram which provided the only government-funded mobility program for vocational students.

“They’ve basically sacrificed that experience for the purview of trying to attract international and also domestic students to regional Australia,” he said.

“We think that sacrifice for regional Australia is too high.”

Robertson told The PIE it was also disappointing the Council for International Education would not be overhauled, as it currently did not have a TAFE representative.

“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need to be able to make sure that international education works. We’re concerned about that.”

It is understood education minister Dan Tehan will remain in his portfolio.

SourceAAP:thepienews.com

Employer incentives may not be the most cost-effective or fair way of boosting apprenticeship number

The Coalition has promised to create 80,000 new apprenticeships in areas of skills shortages if it wins the election. Most skilled trades (such as motor mechanics, panel beaters, carpenters, automotive electricians, plumbers, hairdressers) have recently been in shortage.

The Coalition aims to reduce the shortages through doubling employer incentive payments, making cash payments to apprentices and creating training hubs in regional areas and other areas of need.

Labor said it would pay upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE places. Labor has also said it would provide incentives for employers and apprentices for an additional 150,000 apprentices.

It’s clear trade apprentices and associated skills shortages are a central concern of both parties. But it’s not clear providing incentives is the best way to handle the issue, as history shows government incentives to employers have made little difference to the (mostly male) trade apprenticeship numbers.

Difference between apprentice and trainee

In considering the policies of both parties, it’s important to understand the differences between longer-term trade apprenticeships and shorter-term traineeships.

An apprentice, in the narrow use of the word, is contracted in a tradesuch as that of an electrician, carpenter, chef or hairdresser. An apprenticeship can take up to four years to complete. Trade apprentices make up a small proportion of the vocational education and training sector – around 14% of all government funded vocational students.

Many of the main trades frequently appear on the skills shortage list. Shortages are seen to inhibit productivity in industries and the broader economy.

Traineeships were established in the late 1980s to provide apprentice-type training for young people in non-trade occupations such as sales and clerical, and many of the care occupations including disability and aged care.

The aim was to provide options, particularly for early school leavers, which combine work experience and learning on the job. It was hoped this would enhance early school leavers’ job prospects and add to the stock of skills in the economy.

Traineeships usually take one to two years to complete, much shorter than trade apprenticeships.

History of incentives

From the 1970s, the federal government had been providing financial incentives to employers of trade apprentices. The states also provided assistance. From the mid-1990s the federal government extended incentives to trainees, existing workers and to part-time and older workers.

Together with the introduction of a low training wage for trainees, the incentives led to a rapid expansion in the numbers of trainees in the late 1990s and to new training modes including fully on-the-job training. There was a sharp increase in the number of training organisations as employers were allowed to choose a private or public provider for off-the-job training (often one day a week).

Traineeships are different from apprenticeships, and are usually in non-trades such as clerical occupations. from shutterstock.com

1999 review into the system found some firms were using traineeships as a source of wage subsidies and, in many instances, provided little training to the trainees. For some, the skills acquired were not valued by employers over general work experience obtained during the traineeship. And the issue continued into the next decade.

In 2011, an expert panel noted Australia was the only country that paid government incentives, on a large scale, to employers of apprentices and trainees. The panel reported research that showed incentives paid to employers for the shorter traineeships represented a significant part of the wage costs (in some cases about 20%) and contributed to the large increase in trainee numbers.

For the longer, and more costly, training of trade apprentices, government payments to employers represented a much smaller proportion of the wage and training costs. And so, the incentives had only a marginal effect on the numbers of trade apprentices employed.

The expert panel suggested the government would be better to confine its payments to programs that added value to the economy, such as those in community services, health and information technology.

The panel also recommended the government not give funds directly as incentives to employers. Instead, both employers and government would pay into an employer contribution scheme. Employers who met benchmarks such as a strong induction process and effective mentoring would have their contribution rebated, either in part or in full.

These recommendations were particularly aimed at the non-completion rates of apprentices – on average less than half complete their apprenticeships with their first employer. The most common reason given is dissatisfaction with the employment experience including difficulties with employers or colleagues.

Drop in trainee numbers

The government at the time didn’t take up the recommendation of an employer contribution scheme. It retained incentives for apprenticeships in trades on the national skills needs list such as construction and telecommunications, and for traineeships in priority occupations in aged care, childcare, disability care and nursing.

It abolished incentives for existing workers in other traineeships. Together with cuts in state subsidies to the providers of off-the-job training in some courses, these changes led to a large fall in traineeship numbers.

For example, by 2018, traineeships in clerical and sales had fallen by more than 70% from 2012. Older and female workers were most affected.

But the numbers of starting apprenticeships in trades in the last ten years in the largest three groups – construction trades, automotive and engineering, and electrotechnology and telecommunications – is virtually unchanged. And a fall in automotive was offset by increases in the others.

These results were largely in keeping with intentions of the expert panel in 2011.

A male dominated industry

Trade apprenticeships are male dominated. In 2018, 65,000 males started trade apprenticeships compared to 9,000 females. And females bore the larger share of the reduction in traineeships since 2012. It seems unlikely many of the women who missed out on traineeships are among the entrants to higher education where women form the majority of undergraduates.

The available research shows electrotechnology and telecommunications trades and construction trades graduates are relatively well paid, while hairdressers are the worst paid.

Trade apprentices are already the best-supported VET students during training. They can access trade support loans of up to $20,000 over four years – with a 20% discount of the debt on completion. Apprentices can receive allowances for living away from home, and the government provides support for adult apprentices as well as rural and regional skills shortage incentives.

Employment of apprentices and their mentoring is assisted by the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network, at an annual cost of nearly A$200 million.

State governments also provide additional support for employers and apprentices. For instance, Queensland has a program including schemesaimed at the unemployed. Western Australia has announced the provision of employer incentives in its 2019 budget. NSW has abolished tuition fees for apprenticeships.

Extra government incentives to improve apprenticeship numbers do not seem to be the most effective, or equitable, policy. The next government must undertake a comprehensive review of incentives and all other forms of apprenticeship assistance.

The review should revisit the advice of the 2011 expert panel and ideally, should be conducted in the context of a review all tertiary funding (similar to what Labor is proposing).

SourceAAP:theconversation.com

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.

Schools

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

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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.

SourceAAP:http://theconversation.com

Federal election 2019: Here’s where the major parties stand on education

Graphic of books in a pilePHOTO: Both parties claim to have the best plan to improve declining student results. (ABC News: Emma Machan)

Education is always a major election issue, and after years of school funding wars it will once again be at the forefront of many voters’ minds.

A traditional strength area for Labor, both major parties are pitching themselves as having the best strategy for improving declining student results.

Early education

The Coalition is spending about $450 million to give children access to 15 hours of preschool education a week until the end of 2020.

Labor has promised to commit permanent funding for preschool, replacing the current year-to-year funding arrangement, and extend it to three-year-olds from 2021.

The Opposition describes the plan as a major economic and social reform, however the Coalition has criticised the price tag ($9.8 billion over 10 years) and says it is more important to improve four-year-olds’ attendance rates first.

Major changes were made to the childcare system in 2018, with two existing payments replaced by a new means-tested subsidy, subject to an activity test.

The Coalition argues the changes have left about 1 million families better off, but Labor says it would go further, pledging to spend $4 billion over four years to make child care free for most low-income households and cheaper for families earning up to $174,000 a year.

Schools

The ‘Gonski 2.0’ plan, announced by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, replaced separate school funding deals in favour of a nationally consistent, needs-based system costing an extra $23.5 billion over a decade.

You asked, we answered

Many of you asked about education as part of the ABC’s You Ask, We Answer campaign. Here are some of the audience questions answered in this article:

  • How much funding for public and private schools do the Libs and ALP provide? – Rachel
  • What is the position of the major parties regarding funding technical education/TAFE and reintroducing quality indicators in relation to learning and teaching that determine government funding? – Michele
  • What priority will be given to improving education during the next term and what steps will be taken to increase education standards in Australia? – Matt
  • Will either major party make university more affordable for country students? – Michael

The Catholic education sector complained loudly about the funding system for non-government schools, eventually prompting a new model based on parents’ income, rather than their postcode, worth an extra $4.5 billion.

The Coalition’s 2019 Budget also included a $30 million fund for school equipment and upgrades.

Labor has pledged an extra $14 billion for government schools over the next 10 years, $3.3 billion of which would flow in the first three years — an amount it says could pay for thousands of extra teachers.

The Opposition would not reverse the $4.5 billion deal for non-government schools.

It has also threatened to cap teaching degree places if universities do not do more to lift standards.

Higher and vocational education

The Coalition argues university funding is at record levels, with more than $17 billion allocated in 2019.

In 2017, it announced a two-year cap on university funding aimed at saving $2.1 billion. The Coalition also reduced the salary threshold at which people need to start paying back student loans to $45,000 a year.

The 2019 Budget included a $94 million scholarships program to encourage students to study in regional Australia.

It also revealed $525 million to improve the vocational education and training sector, including funding to boost incentives to support up to 80,000 new apprenticeships.

While it has been in office, the Coalition has introduced sweeping changes to student loans for vocational education.

Under the changes, students can only get loans if they take on approved courses in areas of skills shortages. Students who take on a course that is not approved have to pay upfront.

Labor has criticised the move, but has not committed to reversing it if it wins.

The Opposition has promised to return to a demand-driven university system, which it says would give 200,000 more Australians the chance to go to university at a cost of $10 billion over a decade.

It has also committed to a $300 million fund to upgrade buildings and equipment.

The Opposition has promised a $1 billion vocational education package, including $380 million for 100,000 free TAFE places, $224 million for 150,000 extra apprentice incentives and $200 million for TAFE building upgrades.

It has called for at least one in 10 jobs on Commonwealth projects to be filled by Australian apprentices.

Labor has also set aside $10 million for the creation of 1,300 new scholarships for Indigenous people to study at TAFE if they live outside the big cities.

The Opposition wants to create a new position, an apprentice advocate, to act on young people’s behalf in the workplace.

A Labor government would also hold a national inquiry into post-secondary education, looking at both universities and vocational education and training.

SouceAAP:

Coalition’s $34m study of ageing needs

If re-elected, the Coalition will provide $34m for an aged-care research­ centre to examine new ways to deliver care for older Australians and training and education for care providers.
If re-elected, the Coalition will provide $34m for an aged-care research­ centre to examine new ways to deliver care for older Australians and training and education for care providers.

Australia’s aged-care sector will be supported by a $34 million workforce research centre, in a pre-election pledge by Scott Morrison to ensure the industry can meet growing demand.

The funding is the latest in a ­series of announcements by the Prime Minister to develop new research centres for key government initiatives, after the announcement of a suite of cyber-security initiatives on Monday and a number­ of veteran support centres to coincide with Anzac Day.

If re-elected, the Coalition will provide $34m for an aged-care research­ centre to examine new ways to deliver care for older Australians and training and education for care providers. A further $10m will be spent to develop a “seniors connected program” to address loneliness in aged-care centres.

“This funding will deliver better support and care for older Aust­­ralians, while ensuring we build the workforce to meet the demands­ of an ageing population,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr Morrison has flagged a goal of 475,000 aged-care workers in Australia by 2025. There are more than 1.3 million Australians using some form of aged care, with that number expected to grow to an ­estimated 3.5 million by 2050.

The announcement came after Bill Shorten quashed a call from Australia’s three largest aged-care groups for Labor to extend its $10 billion pitch to fund childcare pay rises to nursing home staff. When Labor was last in government it also legislated a five-year, $1.2bn aged-care sector “workforce supplement” that would only have been paid to nursing home operators who engaged employees “under enterprise agreements providing minimum wage levels”.

Tony Abbott dumped the supplement within months of winning government, saying the money was a union-stacking exercise.

Aged care will be the first sector involved in a pilot program undertaken under the Morrison government’s $41.7m Skills Organis­ations package to support future jobs growth.

“Older Australians have built our country and they deserve our respect and support for the choices they want to make,” the Prime Minister said.

SourceAAP:www.theaustralian.com.au