TAFE NSW spends big on consultants

TAFE NSW spends big on consultants
More than $6.4 million on 8 different contracts to various firms to provide advice and services across the TAFE sector has been spent between June 2018 and September 2019 by the NSW government.  The government is half-way through amalgamating its once 10 separate institutes into one central entity referred to as “OneTAFE reforms”. 

Vice-chancellor suggests universities could be more transparent about international students

The chair of the Group of Eight elite universities says higher education providers could be more transparent about their enrolment of international students and it was important for the sector to enforce high English language standards.

Facing ongoing concerns about the consequences of universities’ growing reliance on revenue from international students, Group of Eight chair Dawn Freshwater said the presence of foreign students was changing the character of university campuses in a positive way, but also said the sector had to be transparent and protect standards.

Dawn Freshwater, chair of the Group of Eight and vice-chancellor at the University of Western Australia.
Dawn Freshwater, chair of the Group of Eight and vice-chancellor at the University of Western Australia. CREDIT:ATTILA CSASZAR

Professor Freshwater, vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, suggested universities amassed significant volumes of data about their operations and could be more open with it.

“As we horizon scan for our strategies, we are also thinking about size, shape and composition of the university. That means we have very good data already in regards to student numbers at all levels. Of course, I think we could all be more transparent about information that we use to inform our decision-making,” she said.

She added that universities worked hard to ensure compliance with national standards and regulations, which required reporting on key measures of success and quality.

“We could probably do more at making that transparent,” she said.

Universities are being scrutinised for their adherence to language standards imposed on the sector. A report released in recent weeks found some institutions were using backdoor entry programs to allow entry for people with inadequate English.

Asked if all providers were doing the right thing with entrance requirements, Professor Freshwater said standards should be upheld.

“Just like any standards that we would expect of the students coming into university, including prerequisites, we do have a threshold that we expect people to meet in terms of their language standards coming in and their language skills and it’s important for us to uphold those standards,” she said.

Newly-released data from the Department of Education shows there were 630,000 international students in Australia as of June 2019, up 12 per cent from a year earlier. This follows many years of similar growth levels.

Fifty-one per cent of those students were in higher education, 28 per cent in vocational education and training, and 3 per cent in schools. China remains by far the largest source country, providing 29 per cent of the students.

The highest concentrations of international students are at some of Australia’s top universities. They make up about 45 per cent of the student populations at RMIT and Monash University and 40 per cent at the University of Melbourne. They account for about 35 per cent of the students at UNSW and 30 per cent at the University of Sydney.

University of Queensland chancellor Peter Varghese last week warned the sector was locked into a funding model reliant on increasing numbers of international students.

“The big question with international students is what is the right proportion of international students at our campuses before we fundamentally change the character of our universities. Is it a third? Is it half? Is it three-quarters?” he said.

“At the end of the day … we are Australian public institutions and we have a primary obligation to Australian students.”

Andrew Norton, the higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, said many of the issues associated with international education at universities could be solved by tougher language standards.

He has suggested a tighter approach would address concerns around international students’ isolation and integration, impacts on teaching, and effectively moderate numbers by preventing entry of students without adequate proficiency.


Leaders act to counter skills shortage

PM Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders hold a formal COAG meeting in Cairns on Friday.PM Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders hold a formal COAG meeting in Cairns on Friday.Image

Australians seeking to learn or renew their skills and businesses looking for qualified employees will be at the centre of an overhauled vocational education system.

The nation’s leaders have agreed to pull together to make sure the vocational education and training system is working as it needs to in the face of a growing skills shortage.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said ensuring Australians were trained for the jobs of a modern economy was one of the biggest challenges the country faced.

“We all want students, whatever age they are, they could be 21, they could be 61 and going through a career change … to have confidence that that system is going to help them with their future intentions and their future careers,” he told reporters after the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Cairns on Friday.

The system needed to be more agile and less bureaucratic.

The “jobs of the future” weren’t just in technology, Mr Morrison said, but increasingly in human services areas such as aged or disability care.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said training more tradies was vital to politicians seeking to build the infrastructure they had all been elected to deliver.

“We have to change the way TAFE and vocational education, non-university pathways are viewed,” he said.

“This is a first-class option, not anything less than that.”

His NSW counterpart Gladys Berejiklian said that was a point on which all the leaders agreed.

She has called for universities and vocational education to be treated as a single sector, something the Business Council of Australia has also been pushing for over several years.

The COAG communique didn’t go that far, but Ms Berejiklian was happy nonetheless.

Mr Morrison said parents should be confident about their child’s future if they chose to pursue a trade or a skills-based education.

“It is not second prize,” he said.

The federal government funded a National Skills Commission in its April budget to better identify and plan for skills shortages and work with industry to design training courses, but it is yet to be established.

A new COAG Skills Council will present leaders with a reform roadmap for the sector in early 2020.

The leaders also agreed to ask their environment ministers to set a deadline for Australia to stop sending its waste overseas.

The country exported 4.3 million tonnes of waste in 2018 at a cost of $2.8 billion.

They agreed to the fourth national action plan on reducing domestic violence, for more cooperation between the commonwealth and states on how to spend infrastructure money, and to make mental health and reducing suicide a national priority.

However, a deal on permanently funding free preschool for Australia’s four-year-olds was pushed off until early 2020.


Leaders to meet for COAG event


 Leaders to meet for COAG event

Improving vocational education and training for Australians is shaping up to be top of the agenda for the Council of Australian Governments.

The nation’s leaders are preparing to meet in Far North Queensland on Friday, the first time the meeting is being held outside a capital city.

The leaders are expected to consider the recommendations of a recent review that identified a spate of challenges in the education and training sector.

The Australian Industry group is calling for reforms to ensure there are enough skilled Australians to support the government’s $100 billion infrastructure pipeline, raising concerns about a growing skills shortage and a degraded training system.


Leaders have skills test ahead of them

The best way to give Australians the skills they need to find quality jobs will be top of mind for the nation’s leaders as they meet in Cairns on Thursday and Friday.
Vocational education and training is shaping up to be a key discussion point for the Council of Australian Governments as leaders consider the recommendations of a recent review that identified a spate of challenges in the sector.
Employers have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison warning of growing skills shortages and a training system that isn’t coping.
The letter from Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox points to the large pipeline of planned infrastructure projects – driven by the commonwealth’s $100 billion budget – an ageing population and degraded training and apprenticeship systems.
He calls for COAG to start work on “bolder and more decisive reforms” to vocational training and directly engage with industry.
Mr Morrison said he understood the situation was frustrating both for businesses and people who were seeking training to get a job.
“The system is letting us down. It needs to be far less bureaucratic and public service-driven,” he told reporters near Townsville on Thursday.


“It’s not about the providers … it’s about the people who want jobs and the people who want to employ people.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also wants the leaders to look at radical reforms, calling for universities and the vocational sector to be treated as one.
“I am concerned the usual COAG approach that simply divides up responsibilities between the commonwealth and the states will detract from us getting better tertiary education outcomes,” she told AAP in a statement.
“We want universities and VET to be thought of in the same sentence for workers looking to prepare themselves for the high-value jobs of the future.”
NSW wants more integrated degrees, where a student can start at a vocational provider and finish at university, or vice versa, to gain a broader range of skills.
It sees the siloed system of keeping the two types of tertiary education separate as outdated.
Mr Morrison agreed, saying TAFE was just as good as university and his government wants to lift the status of training.
Queensland leader Annastacia Palaszczuk is keen to use the discussion to highlight a number of her government’s initiatives, including payroll tax concessions and free apprenticeship training for people aged under 21.
Earlier in the week, federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash warned desperately-needed reform of the vocational education sector could only occur if state and territory governments put political differences aside.
The COAG agenda also touches on population and infrastructure after treasurers met in February to start developing a national framework that sets out a practical approach to improve population planning and management.
NSW will argue for more autonomy for states over federal infrastructure funding and a bigger say in what projects attract cash.
Early childhood education including universal access to preschool, coastal erosion, indigenous disadvantage and suicide, domestic violence, and state restrictions on gas developments are also expected to be discussed.
The leaders are travelling to Cairns for the COAG meeting at the invitation of Ms Palaszczuk.
The premier wants the chance to showcase Queensland’s investments in tourism and exports, particularly targeting Asian markets.
“Since the agenda includes northern Australia where better to meet than one of our northernmost cities,” a spokesman for Ms Palaszczuk told AAP.
“The temperature differential between Cairns and Canberra on Friday is 20 degrees. Our national leaders are about to experience a Queensland winter.”

Apprentice system needs reform: Labor

Over two-in-five apprentices and trainees who started training in 2014 didn't complete their coursesOver two-in-five apprentices and trainees who started training in 2014 didn’t complete their coursesImage: AAP/AAP

Labor has blamed federal government funding cuts for a further drop in completion rates among apprentices and trainees.

Data released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research this week shows over two-in-five apprentices and trainees who commenced training in 2014 did not complete their courses.

The NCVER report shows for those who started training in 2014 among all occupations, just 56.7 per cent completed their course, down 3.2 percentage points from those who started in 2013.

Completion rates for trade occupations were down 4.7 percentage points compared to those who started in 2013 and were two percentage points lower for those doing training for non-trade occupations.

Labor’s assistant spokeswoman for skills Ged Kearney says the coalition government has had six years to turn this around but has failed to take action.

She says vocational education has been severely damaged by a cut of more than $3 billion in funding, the closure of TAFE campuses and allowing “dodgy for-profit providers” to gouge the system.

“The VET sector needs immediate and urgent reform,” Ms Kearney said in a statement on Saturday.

She added that while Skills Minister Michaelia Cash says she wants to see the VET and university sectors on equal footing, the Liberals have failed to commit to the funding and reform required to achieve this important outcome.

“The Liberals must put TAFE back at the centre of the sector, tackle the failures of privatisation and fund the sector properly,” she said.

“With youth unemployment stuck at more than double the national average, young people need a decent skills sector that leads them to secure work.”

In 2018, 1.1 million students enrolled in government-funded vocational education and training, a decrease of 1.9 per cent compared to 2017.


Plibersek holds onto education portfolio in Albanese’s first shadow cabinet

Tanya Plibersek has retained her role as shadow education minister in Anthony Albanese’s newly announced shadow cabinet.

Plibersek’s role has been expanded to include the skills, TAFE and apprenticeships portfolio, previously held by retiring senator Doug Cameron.

Plibersek lost her role as shadow minister for women to Julie Collins, who handled the portfolio during the last two years of the Gillard and Rudd governments.

On Twitter, Plibersek wrote that she was “delighted” to stay on as Labor’s education spokesperson.

Ged Kearney and Graham Perrett will serve as assistant shadow ministers for skills and education, respectively.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) congratulated Plibersek on her reappointment.

“We look forward to continuing a positive working relationship with Ms Plibersek and her office,” ISCA executive director Barry Wallett said

“In her time in the portfolio Ms Plibersek has shown great willingness to engage with all school sectors and has made many positive contributions to the national schooling debate.”

Plibersek stepped down as Labor’s deputy leader to make way for Victorian MP Richard Marles, from the state’s right faction.

Leading into the election, Plibersek told EducationHQ about her passion for education.

“I think education is a terrific portfolio for two reasons,” she said.

“It’s a really great way to make a difference in the life of an individual person; it’s really given so many people the key out of generational poverty. It can mean you realise gifts that you never knew you had.

“It really is literally life changing to get a great education, but it’s also a really important driver of prosperity; our economic success as a nation depends on having a highly skilled, inventive, productive workforce.

“So I really like that combination in a portfolio. The social justice elements and the economic elements brought together make it interesting, challenging and inspiring.”


Familiar faces in new Australian gov’t ministry

A week after the government’s surprise re-election, Australian international educators have received further continuity after the announcement that all but one position overseeing the country’s education sectors remain unchanged.

Familiar faces around Canberra, after ministerial positions overseeing education remain largely unchanged. Photo: Unsplash.Familiar faces around Canberra, after ministerial positions overseeing education remain largely unchanged. Photo: Unsplash.

Announced by prime minister Scott Morrison, the new cabinet sees Dan Tehan retain the education portfolio and Michaelia Cash remain as employment and skills minister, a move welcomed by the higher and vocational education sectors.

“The coming three years presents Australia with a real opportunity”

“We see continuity as paramount in what are turbulent geopolitical times when it has never been more important to ensure policy stability in the areas of defence, trade and education,” said chief executive of the Group of EightVicki Thomson.

“All portfolios the Go8 contributes to by way of research, international engagement and educating the future workforce required to underpin our national economy.”

The focus will likely remain the same for both educators and the government

The only change in terms of education, Steve Irons was announced as assistant minister for vocational education, training and apprenticeships within the employment and skills portfolio. He replaced Karen Andrews, who retained her science and technology portfolio.

“The coming three years presents Australia with a real opportunity to

restructure the tertiary education system so that there is greater integration between the higher education, vocational education, training and skills sectors,” said Troy Williams, chief executive of Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia.

“Quality is very much front and centre of ITECA’s culture and that of our members; however, it’s clear that there is a significant degree of regulatory overreach that’s doing little to support quality student outcomes.”

With ministerial positions overseeing education remaining consistent, the focus of the past eighteen months will also likely remain the same for both educators and the government in the near future.

Ongoing government directives have seen an increased focus on regional education, including boosting the number of international students outside of metropolitan areas, as well as concerns around English proficiency.

The Regional Universities Network welcomed Tehan’s reappointment, with chair Helen Bartlett saying the organisation looked forward to the future implementation of the National Regional, Rural and Remote Education Strategy.

Universities Australia, which has been combatting successive funding cuts within the university sector, meanwhile pledged to continue to work towards increasing access to higher education, and reminded Tehan of his comments that it was “the great enabler”.


Plibersek warns unis on standards risk from international student boom

The woman who appears on track to be Australia’s next education minister has delivered a stark warning to universities, declaring a major funding boost comes with an expectation that the sector prioritises the national interest and does not allow the international student boom to damage educational standards.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said the party intends to deliver “transformative” changes to universities and vocational education and training, but she hosed down renewed calls for the sectors to be brought under one national system.

Deputy Labor leader and education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek.
Deputy Labor leader and education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek.CREDIT:LUIS ENRIQUE ASCUI

“We are prepared to uncap places again. It’s a $10 billion investment over the decade. And what we want in return is for universities to consider the interests of their local communities and the national interest when they are making decisions about how they expand, how they attract students, the sort of educational offering they make,” she said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Ms Plibersek said reports of “students being passed with lower than you would expect English proficiency really affect the reputation of all Australian higher education providers”.

“We need to be very vigilant about maintaining our standards because we don’t want to rip people off, but also we don’t want to develop a reputation as a hit and miss provider of university education,” she said.

Australia has experienced explosive growth in international education over recent years — 14 per cent in 2018 — and it is now the nation’s third-largest export. In 2018, about 400,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australian universities, pumping $34 billion into the economy.

The boom has led to concerns about foreign students being treated as cash cows, the impact on teaching standards, and potential complications stemming from the heavy reliance on Chinese students, who account for a third of international enrolments.

Ms Plibersek praised international education as an important export for Australia but cautioned that emerging competition from other countries, including China itself, underlined a need to diversify source countries.

Faced with repeated hits to government funding for research and domestic undergraduate education, many universities have become increasingly reliant on the lucrative revenue from international students.

With Labor widely tipped to win government on May 18, Ms Plibersek has flagged that new funding agreements with universities would outline certain expectations, including higher entry standards for teaching degrees and addressing sexual assault on campus.


“There’s no notion that we just go back to an uncapped system and universities can just let rip,” she said.

“The extra funding has to give us higher graduation rates, better university experience and meet the needs of our nation. It’s a very serious investment of taxpayer funds and universities need to demonstrate the benefit of that investment.”

The former Labor government uncapped places in 2012. The Coalition then froze demand-driven funding at the start of 2018 and has indicated it would be indexed to population growth from 2020.

A Labor government would initiate a comprehensive review of tertiary education in Australia, and Ms Plibersek said she wanted it to transform university and TAFE education, ensuring that both are performing, there is more flexible movement of students between the two and “more sensible” ways of paying for TAFE courses.

“The fact that universities will be funded on a demand-driven basis and TAFE is budget-funded and has the Commonwealth-state overlap has really meant that vocational education has suffered from the vicissitudes of government policy. It has been much more brutal on TAFE,” she said.

While Ms Plibersek acknowledged some in the sector were calling for a single, nationally administed tertiary education system that takes charge of state-based TAFEs and said she wouldn’t pre-empt the inquiry’s findings, she is not yet convinced by the idea.

“I don’t see a great advantage in having one united system, but I think there definitely needs to be more ability to move between the systems and to design the sort of education that meets your employment needs,” she said.

On Monday, Labor is expected to announce 5000 fee-free TAFE places targeted at the digital economy, including IT and software development.

Labor digital economy spokesman Ed Husic said the Coalition had failed to address “crippling” skills shortages and Labor was “determed to make sure that we get Australians skilled up and ready for the jobs ahead”.



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