It’s a mystery

September 22, 2018

Why does the Australian Government Department of Education and Training refuse to recognise not-for-profit adult and community education providers? That question continues to mystify me, in the same way the Geoffrey Rush’s character in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love repeatedly proclaims, “It’s a mystery.”

Read my opinion piece on the Community Colleges Australia website.

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A vision for Australia’s adult and community education providers – speech at VET Policy Forum

July 19, 2018

On 16 July 2018 I spoke at a Federal VET Forum organised by Audit Express. Other speakers were the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, the Hon Karen Andrews MP; Shadow Minister for Skills, Senator the Hon Doug Cameron; Mary Faraone, Chief Executive of Holmesglen Institute, for TAFE Directors Australia; and Rod Camm, Chief Executive of ACPET.

My speech follows. You can also read this on the website of Community Colleges Australia.

Speech by Dr Don Perlgut, CEO, Community Colleges Australia at the Federal VET Policy Forum, VET Development Centre, Melbourne, 16 July 2018

I wish to acknowledge that we are meeting today on Aboriginal land, the land of the Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

At this forum, I represent Australia’s adult and community education providers, a sector that had 380,000 VET students in 2016, some 9 percent of the national total. By any count that’s a significant force in Australia’s training landscape, especially active in Victoria and New South Wales. In addition to those students, each year our providers engage many hundreds of thousands more adults in personal learning. For many of them, this provides a pathway back to education and training.

Australia’s community education sector is also unique in another way: we over-perform, we seriously over-perform in reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners in comparison to other providers. In percentage terms, the latest 2017 government-funded VET data shows that we beat TAFE and private for-profit providers. Using New South Wales data, which is the best national average:

  • 20 percent of community students had a disability, compared to 12% of TAFE and 9 percent of private providers.
  • More than 13 percent of community students were Indigenous, compared to less than 10 percent of TAFE and 7 percent of private students.
  • Almost 64 percent of community students lived in regional, rural and remote areas, compared to less than 37 percent of TAFE and less than 33 percent of private students.
  • Almost 66 percent of community students were the most socially and economically disadvantaged – the bottom two SEIFA quintiles, compared to 55 percent of TAFE and 56 percent of private students.
  • More than 64 percent of community students were female, compared to 57 percent of TAFE and 51 percent of private students.
  • Non-English speaking background students was the only area where community did not top the charts: with 13.7 percent of students, compared to TAFE with 21 percent and private providers with 11 percent. This probably results at least in part because of the large number of non-metropolitan community students, most of whom are native English speakers.

The message is clear: if you want to reach Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, you must start with community VET providers.

Category Community Education (student %) TAFE (student %) Private for-profit providers (student %)
Aged 45+ 35.8 19.0 14.7
Students with a disability 19.7 12.1 8.9
Indigenous 13.4 9.6 7.0
Non-English speaking bkgrnd 13.7 21.0 11.0
Rural regional remote 63.8 36.6 32.6
Socio-Econom disadvantage 65.6 55.2 56.2
Female 64.3 56.7 51.5

Source: Government-funded students and courses 2017, National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), 3 July 2018, https://www.ncver.edu.au/publications/publications/all-publications/government-funded-students-and-courses-2017.

So, what do we want from the Commonwealth Government?

Infrastructure and Building Support

One of the greatest challenges facing community education providers is how to maintain existing and construct new buildings. Small and medium providers, especially in regional areas, face special and well-documented challenges to maintain the “high infrastructure costs imposed by accreditation and competitive tendering.”

In 2009, the Commonwealth Government set up a $100 million “Investing in Community Education and Training program”, part of a $500 million VET Capital Fund that included TAFE. This fund offered not-for-profit community education providers grants up to $1.5 million for major capital infrastructure developments and upgrades.

Last year, CCA surveyed almost half of the organisations that received funds from this program. We found that more than 100,000 additional students undertook training in the following seven years as a direct result of that funding. In other words, a new student was trained for every $1,000 invested. That’s a fabulous return on investment.

Community Colleges Australia calls for a repeat of this facilities investment for not-for-profit training providers.

Recognition of adult and community education

We also call on all the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments to update and reissue the 2008 Ministerial Statement on Adult and Community Education, and support the efforts of Adult Learning Australia. The last Statement confirmed the “value of adult and community education in developing social capital, building community capacity … and enhancing social cohesion.”

There is very little in the 2008 Statement that does not apply today. But the world of post-school education has changed rapidly in the last nine years. We need a national policy statement that articulates the new realities of VET, given our rapidly changing economy in the post-mining boom period.

Restoring the Community College and Community Education Brand

The community education and community college brand has been comprehensively confused in recent years, because all levels of government have allowed some private for-profit VET providers to use the words “community” and “college” freely in their names. A large part of the public can no longer distinguish between genuine not-for-profit community-serving education and training and the for-profit VET counterparts. This is not an accident. These for-profit companies purposefully use the words college, community and various place names – Australia, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane as a means of deceiving potential learners to think that they are a public or community provider. I won’t “name names” today, but go to our website for a list of examples.

Proper funding for VET

Proper government funding for VET is now imperative.

The numbers are clear. In ten year period up to 2016, real terms government expenditure shows:

  • pre-schools increased by 150 percent
  • schools increased by 30 percent
  • universities increased by 53 percent
  • But VET decreased by 5 percent

VET is the “forgotten middle child”. So says Dr Damian Oliver:

“The middle child is squeezed between schools, which tend to get a lot of policy attention, like the youngest child, and the universities, which tend to get the prestige and status, like the oldest child. There is no doubt that the VET sector has a lower status in Australia.”

We have noted recent free TAFE course announcements by the Victorian Government, the New South Wales Government and promises by the Federal Opposition. CCA supports proper funding of TAFE, the true anchor VET institution, with which we share most values. It’s safe to say that we love TAFE, although it’s almost always an unrequited love.

What we do not support, however, are the unintended consequences of providing free TAFE courses while leaving the rest of the policy settings unchanged. When this happens, there will be – and it’s already happening – a negative impact on community providers. To governments we say: that may not be your intention, but that’s the reality. We implore you to ensure that additional TAFE funding does not damage community providers. If that happens, we all lose.

Reversal of the marketisation and privatisation of VET

CCA also calls on all governments to reverse the marketisation and privatisation of VET.

In the Australian schools sector, there are almost no “for profit” institutions. In the university sector, for-profit institutions enrol only 5% of students. Yet in the VET sector in 2016, 59 percent of students enrolled in private for-profit institutions.

The age of “contestable funding” for VET has severely disadvantaged community education providers. No less than the self-described “Queen of Capitalism”, Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westcott, has said:

“We can’t just say let the market work, because it doesn’t always work for everybody…. It doesn’t often work for disadvantaged people, it doesn’t work in certain locations [and] it doesn’t work for emerging skills. Whenever you hear people say, “Let the market just run,” you say: to what end and what purpose?  Market reform has to be about outcomes, not fads.”

The much-abused VET FEE-HELP scheme was the worst manifestation of marketisation. But it was only a symptom of a much deeper malaise in Australian public life. This “neoliberalism” assumes that the privatisation of public educational (and other) services is a good thing. An efficient market will provide when public funding is given to the private sector. What we know now – and should have recognised years ago – is that this simply is not true.

Education is a public good; it should not be sustaining profit margins greater than 30 percent. If it does, surely quality will suffer. The marketisation of Australian public services has never been more problematic than in the VET space. Education and training is not a suitable buy-and-sell commodity, both on rational economic as well as social criteria.

Even the Commonwealth’s economically dry Productivity Commission acknowledges that, “The expansion of VET FEE-HELP access after 2012 is a well-documented example of how policy can fail if governments do not ensure proper policy design along with suitable regulatory oversight.”

The Australian National Audit Office report on the Administration of the VET FEE-HELP Scheme also acknowledges that a free-for-all Australian VET market is wrong. Paragraph 27 of the report details how there was an average tuition fee increase of 342 percent over a six year period due to VET FEE-HELP, and a variation in course fees of up to 1000 percent.

Got that? In other words, consumers did not have enough information or power or capability to determine or negotiate the proper pricing mechanism. Many learners simply assumed that because the loans were from the Australian Government that it must have been okay. Put simply, competition did NOT bring lower prices or higher quality – in fact the opposite occurred.

And which consumers fared worse from the VET FEE-HELP fiasco? The answer: Indigenous students and low socio-economic status students.

The Government’s Redesigning VET FEE-HELP paper found that in 2015 the average annual tuition fee for Indigenous students was almost 40 percent higher than non-Indigenous students.

These are extraordinary findings. So don’t tell me that we need more “choice” or competition in VET. What we do need are properly funded government and community providers that are committed to the common good, and not to producing high levels of profit for individuals and corporations.

Foundation skills, adult literacy and numeracy

Let’s turn to foundation skills, adult literacy and numeracy.

A few years ago, the Australian Bureau of Statistics concluded that a significant proportion of the adult population in Australia was unable to “demonstrate minimum levels of literacy and numeracy required … in the emerging knowledge-based economy.”

The Australian Council for Adult Literacy estimates that “one in five adults do not have the literacy skills to effectively participate in everyday life.”

A survey by Mission Australia and Youth Action showed that 74 percent of young people said that literacy and numeracy issues were significant barriers to completing VET qualifications.

Our sector, the community providers, does some of the heaviest lifting in adult literacy and numeracy, with our concentration on lower level training. Yet funding languishes.

Regional Economic Development

Let’s turn to economic development.

It is time to recognise that Australia’s community providers play an important role in regional and rural economic development through our training and other service activities. CCA estimates that Victorian community education providers deliver 20 percent of accredited VET training in regional and rural areas, and 10 percent in New South Wales. VET participation is at least 50 percent higher in regional Australia, where community providers constitute a significant national force. Many small towns and rural areas depend on our service. If Western Riverina Community College in Griffith were to disappear, the impact on that region would be profound. We need to reduce the barriers for community providers to participate in regional economic development programs.

Our sector also plays an important role in outer metropolitan areas such as Western Sydney, home to 2.3 million people, almost 10 percent of Australia’s population. CCA has started to work with twelve community providers to develop a coordinated approach to economic development of that region, supported by the New South Wales Government.

Upskilling Older Workers

CCA welcomes the recently announced Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers program, designed to support people aged 45 to 70 to remain in the workforce. Many of this age group are at risk of becoming collateral damage in a rapidly changing economy.

Community education providers have the right environment and style to reach and re-train older workers in many industries. In 2017, 36 percent of community students were aged 45-plus in 2017, compared to 19 percent of TAFE and less than 15 percent of for-profit students.

Help us to take our place in meeting the needs of older workers, as the natural partner for governments.

A Plea for National Leadership

I want to conclude with a plea to our national politicians to provide real vision and leadership in Australia’s VET space, developing bi-partisan approaches to national challenges.

It’s time for proper funding: don’t tell me that we don’t have the money, because we surely do, when we are considering tax cuts across the board.

It’s time to bring the states and territories together to further a national conversation on how we educate and train Australia for the mid twenty-first century.

And it’s time to value the contributions of Australia’s community education sector.

(Image below: Senator Cameron and Assistant Minister Karen Andrews)


Federal Labor’s commitment to Australian vocational education and training

April 18, 2018

The Labor Shadow Minister for Skills Senator Doug Cameron has re-stated Labor’s commitment to Australia’s community education providers. In a speech last Friday – 13 April 2018 – to the AEU National TAFE Council, Senator Doug Cameron said:

The current vocational education and training system is flawed and it needs to be fixed – but the problems in VET are a manifestation of deeper ideological trends that have shaped policy development in Australia for far too long. Inequality is growing. Trickle-down economics – and relying on the good agencies of rich corporations to share wealth – always a delusion – has now been comprehensively discredited.

It is my view that the rise in inequality has been exacerbated by the misuse and misapplication of competition policy – the slavish adherence to increasing competition, privatisation and outsourcing has done considerable damage. In 1996 98% of students receiving publicly funded VET were in TAFE (with 83%) or not-for-profit community education providers (with 15%) but, by 2016 this had fallen to 52% and 6% respectively.

That is why Labor have already announced we will return the $637 million the coalition stripped from VET in the last budget and why we have committed that at least two thirds of all government funding for vocational education will go to TAFE. The balance will go to not-for-profit community educators and only the very best of the private providers with demonstrable links to specific industry requirements.

My comments in my capacity as CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA):

I am pleased to hear that Shadow Minister for Skills Senator Cameron has re-committed Federal Labor to supporting Australia’s community education providers.

When Senator Cameron spoke to the CCA conference in July 2017, he said similar things. We are pleased that Labor has maintained its commitment to Australia’s community education sector, as an important complement to the VET anchor institution of TAFE.

Senator Cameron’s analysis is consistent with CCA’s own interpretation of VET policy and recent history. We are keen that all sides of politics recognise the important role of Australia’s community providers in building our nation, and commit to proper funding of our sector. It’s no longer acceptable that community providers receive the crumbs from the table.

The challenge for the current government and the Assistant Skills Minister is to elaborate on a vision that is also compelling. Erasing the much-based VET FEE-HELP program, replacing it with VET Student Loans, was a great start – but not nearly sufficient. Announcing the Skilling Australians Fund is an interesting innovation. Unfortunately neither one of these programs have much resonance or relevance to Australia’s important community education sector.

Excerpts from Senator Cameron’s Speech to the CCA Conference in July 2017

The following are excerpts from Senator Cameron’s speech presented at the CCA national conference in Melbourne on 26 July 2017:

Community Colleges and the people who work in them, excel at assisting disadvantaged learners. You work with individuals to achieve goals they had thought were beyond their reach – providing critical literacy and numeracy skills and assisting them to gain important foundation life and employment skills.

You give young people, alienated from formal schooling, a second chance at education. Your colleges also offer quality, vocationally-focused training and education to people seeking to start work, return to work, change jobs or keep their job. Community-based education is a critical launching point for disadvantaged learners into further education and into work; particularly in regional and rural communities where the support is especially valuable and needed.

Importantly, adult and community education institutions build and sustain local communities by bringing people together through their shared interests; by forging partnerships with other local organisations; and tailoring courses from the community and for the communities they serve.

In a world where inequality, fragmentation and isolation are growing, the work community educators undertake – creating and sustaining local connections; nurturing resilient, engaged and involved citizens; and smoothing transitions into work and further learning – is of enormous value. The socially, politically and economically engaged communities you foster are the foundations upon which strong democracies are built.

More extracts from Senator Cameron’s speech on 13 April 2018

The evidence shows that the training market in Australia has led to:

  • an overall decline in the outcomes for students – the latest official annual survey of VET students taken in mid-2017 found that of students who graduated during 2016 and were employed, just 30% were in an occupation group related to their training
  • a decline in quality– the government’s own regulator has called the training market “a race to bottom” – which has placed enormous pressure on providers like TAFE working to maintain quality
  • the proliferation of wasteful and rigid bureaucratic processes – that have seen the development of 17,000 units of competence and 1,400 different qualifications, many of which remain unused
  • dissatisfied employers continuing to complain of skill shortages and gaps – despite being given the authority to lead the system
  • cherry-picking and rent seeking by for-profit providers
  • insufficient investment in infrastructure and in teacher qualifications and resources
  • money wasted on marketing, promotion and advertising
  • the development of a market for low quality courses
  • and, at its very worst, the defrauding and exploitation of citizens trying to improve their lives through gaining education and qualifications.

The commodification of education is summed up by the words of a capital investment adviser spruiking the money-making benefits of education:

“Education is a beautiful business when it works. Fat fees, hefty annual increases, recurring income and high switching costs are just a few traits of high-performing education providers. Investors who have understood the sector’s potential have done exceptionally well…The sector has excellent long-term potential. Not-for-profit education providers…look like sitting ducks as technology eventually reshapes the sector.” (Tony Featherstone, “Top Performing Education Stocks”, 17 March 2014).

About this post

This post is an adaptation of a news item on the Community Colleges Australia website on 13 April 2018; I am re-posting and expanding it here in order to extend the message.


Tackling inequality in Australia through improving education for marginalised learners

April 13, 2018

Australia’s Public Education Foundation has released a major report that examines the price of educational inequality in Australia’s schools.

What Price the Gap? Education and Inequality in Australia, by the Foundation’s Executive Director David Hetherington examines educational inequality and its cost to Australia. The report estimates that over the six years from 2009 to 2015, “growing inequality cost Australia around $20.3 billion, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP,” and that, “the longer-term cost to Australia is even bigger, because the gap was widening prior to 2009.”

The report states that in the years immediately after the financial crisis, educational inequality “has transformed into a defining national debate.”

“Taken together, the assembled evidence points to several firm conclusions about educational inequality in Australia:

  • Inequality is found in access to teachers, access to resources, access to curriculum and test performance;
  • Inequality for new student cohorts is worsening over time;
  • Inequality increases as students move through their school years;
  • Socioeconomic status and parental education are the main drivers for educational inequality, while Australia performs relatively well on gender and migrant status which are problematic in other countries; and
  • Inequality exists within sectors, as well as between them, with the public sector arguably more unequal due to its more representative coverage.”

My comment:

There is no doubt that equality and educational access – especially to Australia’s most marginalised populations and communities – is now a high priority national issue. Australia’s community education sector already makes a substantial contribution to reducing inequality. In a country riven by growing class divides, adult and community education providers specialise in reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals. For instance, in New South Wales almost 70% of government-funded VET activity is directed to the bottom 40 percent of individuals experiencing disadvantage. The report states that “economic inequality reinforces educational inequality”. Australia’s community education providers are in an excellent position to help counter that cycle for adults and school leavers.

The Public Education Foundation Paper

Other selected quotes from the report (complete report – PDF – available here):

“The question of inequality has permeated recent public debate in Australia. From stagnating wages to CEO salaries, from retiring boomers to renting millennials, the widening gaps in our society have come under intense scrutiny. With each passing year, the inequality drumbeat grows louder. What began as a distant ripple from Athens and Zuccotti Park in the years immediately after the financial crisis has transformed into a defining national debate. Australia was sheltered by the commodities boom from the worst distributional effects of neoliberalism, but as that boom has faded, the growing gap between haves and have-nots has become starker.

“There have been many analyses of the causes of this gap, which range from a less equitable tax system to the decline of the union movement. One which has been less explored is the relationship between education and economic inequality – whether changes in our education system have contributed to the growing wealth and income divide. Given that education is acknowledged as the critical determinant of future earning potential (Quiggin, 1999), it’s reasonable to ask how changes in education achievement may be affecting inequality.

“Another feature of Australian education is that inequality widens as children move through their school years. This trend is particularly pronounced amongst children whose parents have low educational achievement. Students of parents with no post-secondary education lag students of parents with a degree by ten months in Year 3. By Year 9, this gap has grown to thirty months.

“A final important point on educational inequality in Australia is that it is entrenched within sectors as well as across them. Much commentary around educational divides in Australia focuses on public versus private schools. However, the empirical evidence shows clearly that it is the socioeconomic background rather than school sector that affects results. Once socio-economic background is accounted for, there is essentially no difference in performance between public and non-government schools. So yes, educational inequality flows through to economic inequality. But there’s another dynamic at play here too.

“The causation also works in reverse: economic inequality reinforces educational inequality. They operate in a mutually reinforcing cycle.

“The first goal of education with regards to inequality should be to narrow the gap between top and bottom performing students by lifting the ones at the bottom up, without suppressing those at the top. It is well established that higher educational performance creates economic benefits and conversely that falling performance incurs economic costs.”

The full Public Education Foundation issues paper is available (PDF) here.

The Public Education Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing life-changing scholarships to students and educators in public education and enhancing the value and reputation of public education.

(I originally placed this post, in a slightly different form, on the website of Community Colleges Australia. I am duplicating it here in order to extend the reach.)


Australian VET policy just got a lot more complicated

March 13, 2018

Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) policy discussion space has just become a lot more intense with the announcement by the Federal Australian Labor Party of a national inquiry.

On 23 February, Deputy ALP Leader (and Shadow Education Minister) Tanya Plibersek announced a “shake up of TAFE and uni”, stating that “Labor wants prospective students to see TAFE and uni as equally attractive study options.” She also announced, “a once in generation National Inquiry into Post-Secondary Education that will look at every aspect of the vocational and higher education systems, to ensure they can best respond to the needs of Australia’s economy and society.”

The inquiry is to be “ready to go in the first 100 days of a Labor Government.” Labor followed the announcement up by inviting submissions on the scope and terms of reference for the inquiry, which is to be conducted within the existing resources of the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

The Labor announcement – which received extensive coverage in the press (The Guardian, Australian Financial Review and The Australian. Ross Gittins in The Sydney Morning Herald (28 February) pointed out that there is a long history to the current state of VET stuff ups, recommending that the Turnbull Government should simply join Labor’s call for an inquiry. He notes that the problem goes way back to mistakes by then education minister Julia Gillard), “made worse by state governments of both colours.” While a university demand-funded system went into place, Ross Gittins writes:

TAFE was being hit by sharp cuts in federal funding … and subjected to the disastrous VET experiment…. Parts of the states’ union-dominated TAFE systems had become outdated and inflexible …. Rather than reform TAFE directly, however, someone … got the bright idea of forcing TAFE to shape up by exposing it to cleansing competition from private providers.

The feds extended to the VET sector a version of the uni system of deferred loans to cover tuition fees. State governments happily played their part in this cost-saving magic…. The result was to attract a host of fly-by-night rip-off merchants …. Eventually … the present government overreacted. Now it’s much harder to get federal help with TAFE fees than uni fees.

Far too little is being done to get TAFE training properly back in business after most of the for-profit providers have faded into the night…. Last year’s budget established an (inadequate) Skilling Australians Fund.

The Labor announcement follows on the October 2017 release of a report by the Business Council of Australia (BCA) entitled Future-Proof: Protecting Australians Through Education and Skills.

“When both the ACTU and the BCA – not exactly happy bed-fellows – agree that an inquiry is welcome and overdue, you know that important something is going on,” said Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA).

“CCA welcomes this attention being paid to the problems of Australian VET. We have been saying for some time that Australia’s lack of a national VET policy is a recipe for disaster,” said Dr Perlgut.

“The problem we see with both the BCA report and Labor’s announcement is that neither of them acknowledge Australia’s community education sector. In 2016, some 378,000 people studied VET with community providers; that’s a full 9 percent of the national total that year,” said Dr Perlgut.

“Both Labor and the BCA have the right idea – Australian VET is in crisis and will not self-correct – but neither of them see the whole picture. CCA believes in the centrality of TAFE to Australia’s VET system, but the complementarity of the not-for-profit community sector is a part of the answer. Our sector has the flexibility, capacity and integrity to do more and expand its role, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged workers and potential workers.

“At CCA’s Annual Conference in Melbourne last July, Senator Cameron – Labor’s Skills spokesperson – acknowledged the importance of the community VET sector. This needs to be incorporated into Labor’s proposed inquiry’s terms of reference,” said Dr Perlgut.

(The item above was originally published in the “news” section of Community Colleges Australia. View the original item here.)


Community Colleges Australia Conference features focus on young people

July 8, 2017

The education and training challenges and opportunities of young people features highly at Community Colleges Australia’s annual conference in Melbourne, 25 to 27 July.

As the CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA), I am proud of how we have constructed a comprehensive program stream for those interested in building better opportunities and pathways for Australia’s young people.

The conference recognises the vital importance that education plays in young people’s lives. Because of the strong community links and not-for-profit status of community education providers, the sector plays an essential role in ensuring that investment in Australian skills is both meaningful and properly targeted to young Australian learners and the communities most in need.

The young people program sessions include:

  • an expert panel discussing the growing phenomenon of secondary schools hosted by adult and community education providers;
  • the changing world of work, and what it means for Australia’s young people;
  • detailed examinations of the transition from school to training, further education and work;
  • how to re-engage disengaged young people in education, training and study;
  • An international focus, with speakers from USA, New Zealand and Malaysia providing a wider perspective on community education; and
  • the first-ever “Community Education Student of the Year” Awards, to be delivered at the Gala Dinner at the Windsor Hotel, featuring Aboriginal tennis coach Anzac Leidig, who will help present the awards.

The conference speakers talking on young people include:

  • “The workforce of tomorrow demands a new mindset”, by Bronwyn Lee, Deputy CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), who will draw on FYA’s research on the New Work Order;
  • “Building the Financial Capability of Indigenous Young People in the Northern Territory”, by (my former colleague) Duncan Poulson, Northern Territory Regional Commissioner, Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) – drawing on ASIC’s MoneySmart financial literacy expertise, a project that I worked on for almost two and a half years;
  • “Education and Regional Development: A view from American Community Colleges”, by Dr Roberta Teahen, Associate Provost, Ferris State University, Michigan USA, & Dr Laurie Chesley, Executive Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs & Provost, Grand Rapids Community College. Michigan (Grand Rapids is a unique small city in central Michigan, one of the parts of the USA that narrowly “flipped” by voting for Donald J Trump in the last US election);
  • “The Brotherhood of St Laurence Study on Young People in the Private VET Sector”, by Kira Clarke, Lecturer in Education Policy, Centre for Vocational & Education Policy, Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne;
  • “Powering up the work of Flexible Learning Providers through strategic partnerships and networks”, by Louisa Ellum, Chair, Youth Affairs Council of Victoria & Chief Executive, International Specialised Skills Institute (ISS Institute);
  • “Empowering Positive Post-School Transitions”, by Nicholas Johns, Johns Consulting & ISS Institute Fellow;
  • “Learning with Passion for Purpose and Direction”, by Mana Forbes, Maori Elder, Hamilton, New Zealand, Tai Wanaga High School;
  • “Disengaged youth and community colleges – the perfect fit”, by Wendy Ratcliffe, WEA Foundation Manager and co-founder of WEA Hunter’s Alesco Senior College;
  • “Australian Apprenticeships: one pathway to a better future”, by Peta Skujins, Research and Content Officer, Australian Apprenticeships and Traineeships Information Service (formerly with NCVER); and
  • “Youth and Alternative Pathways – the Advance Story”, a report from Steve Wright, CEO, Advance Community College (Rosebud VIC).

The full program is now available here.

All speaker biographies are available here.

You can register for the conference here.

I would love to see you there. Our conference logo is below:

 


The Australian Government moves to start investing in vocational education and training

May 3, 2017

The Australian Government looks like it is about to start investing in vocational education and training (VET) again. It’s about time.

It’s also important to examine some recent history. Last July, Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition ran its election campaign under the slogan “jobs and growth”, although announced no new training policies or programs. Instead, it promoted a $48 billion tax cut for business, part of which has partially been approved by Parliament.

In June of last year, Monash Business School and the Economic Society of Australia (ESA) polled the ESA National Economic Panel for their opinion on this proposition: “Australia will receive a bigger economic growth dividend in the long-run by spending on education than offering an equivalent amount of money on a tax cut to business.”

Economists are famously not the most left-leaning group of professionals, but their responses to this question – while not uniform – were overwhelming: almost two-thirds of the panel (19 of 30) “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement, with only 6 economists disagreeing and 4 “uncertain”. Comments included:

  • Bruce Chapman: “Literacy and numeracy skills of the population are the most important contributors to long-run growth. So long as the additional education contributes importantly to these capacities there should be little doubt that expenditure in this area is of the most critical significance.”
  • Chris Edmond: “Business tax cuts offer a ‘one-off’ level effect and so has no long-run growth dividend at all, while investment in education has a very real prospect of increasing the growth rate of real GDP over an extended period.”
  • James Morely: “Estimates on returns to education are larger and more precise than estimates on the effects of tax cuts on investment and long-run growth.”
  • John Quiggin: “Social and private returns to education are higher than marginal returns to business investment.”

One of those who disagreed – Professor Rodney Maddock (who will be speaking at Community Colleges Australia’s Annual Conference in Melbourne in July) – cautioned that, “I do not expect any payoff from increased educational spending unless there are very significant reforms to the system.” In other words, it’s not just about investment, but also about how the system uses that investment.

Jessica Irvine, senior economics writer for Fairfax Media, agrees with focussing on education investment:

Much of Australia’s low-hanging fruit has been picked when it comes to economic reform. We’ve floated the dollar, privatised the banks, deregulated the labour market. There’s less obvious work for government to do to reform the economy. But if I had to nominate the remaining lowest-hanging fruit, it’s spending money to help disadvantaged students get the best out of their education. Kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds are our greatest untapped source of potential growth. They are our most undervalued stock.

Irvine’s prescription:

Want to innovate? Educate. Want to create the jobs of the future? Educate. Want more tax revenue? Educate. Investments in our human capital offer the best returns around.

In May 2016, writing in The Guardian Australia, former Citibank Chief Economist Stephen Koukoulas stated:

The relationship between educational attainment and growth and income is a given. The more skilled and educated a workforce, the better off is the economy and the population. The consequences for countries with a poorly trained workforce are devastating. Australia saw this just prior to the global financial crisis in 2007-08 when the economy ran out of suitably educated people. The “skills shortage”, as it became known, meant that rapidly expanding companies could not find the people needed to work in their bigger and better businesses.

Koukoulas accurately predicted how and why the Coalition Government might turn to investing in skills:

In the period from the end of 2005 to the start of 2009, unemployment hovered around a 30-year low at between 4-5%. In human terms this was around 450,000 to 500,000 people. None of these half a million people had the skills required in a strong economy, so businesses had to resort to hiring foreign workers. While this was appropriate at that time of unforeseen economic strength, it overlooked the issue that the education and training system allowed 450,000 people in the workforce to remain unemployed despite the unprecedented demand for labour.

Fast forward just 11 months to April 2017: The ABC recently reported that the “May budget will establish a training fund worth $300 million, funded by visa charges. This will sit alongside a bigger focus on vocational and non-university skills training.” This announcement is set in the context of abolishing the “457 temporary work visas” and introducing new language and skills testing for foreigners who seek to work in Australia.

So investing in vocational education and training appears to be on the Coalition’s agenda, although (apparently) tied to new immigration rules. Next week’s budget will reveal how much.

(Note: I originally published this article on 27 April 2017, under the title “Investment in Training Back on the National Agenda”, on the Community Colleges Australia website.)