Increase investment in community education to tackle disadvantage and unemployment in rural Australia

March 3, 2017

Community Colleges Australia issued the following press release in late February – reproduced below.

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Australian governments should increase investment in community education to address higher levels of disadvantage and unemployment in rural and regional Australia, according to a new report from Community Colleges Australia (CCA).

The report, The Role of Community Education in Australian Regional and Rural Economic Development, finds that not-for-profit community-based vocational education and training (VET) providers play a disproportionately large role in rural and regional Australia, educating at least 10% of VET students in New South Wales and 20% in Victoria.  This makes community providers a significant national force in providing skills to non-metropolitan Australia.

Participation rates in VET courses are 50% higher in rural and regional Australia than in metropolitan areas. A much larger percentage of rural and regional VET learners also study lower level qualifications: Certificate III and below – just those qualifications that community education providers excel in, with their focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.

“This report shows how community education is crucial in providing skills and in driving economic development in rural and regional Australia, and includes numerous examples of ‘bottom-up’ innovative community-based approaches. Community education providers are uniquely positioned to act as ‘passing gear’ vehicles, accelerating new ideas and helping our regions to prosper,” said Dr Don Perlgut, Chief Executive Officer of CCA.

“Yet governments have not been investing enough in community education, particularly in high need, disadvantaged rural and regional areas where youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. We have not seen any national infrastructure investment in community education since 2009 – it’s now 2017. On top of this, Australia lacks a coherent national statement on the role of community education in VET. This policy vacuum makes it difficult for community providers to operate effectively,” said Dr Perlgut.

“CCA looks forward to working collaboratively with the Australian, state and territory governments to fix these issues, and to utilise the capacity that community VET providers have to meet pressing rural and regional skills needs,” said Dr Perlgut.

The report makes a number of key recommendations, including that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments should:

  • Boost funding for community education, including providing more support for infrastructure, professional development and staff training, pilot funding programs, and community service obligation activities.
  • Utilise regional and rural community education providers to engage with vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians, particularly young people.
  • Develop a coordinated national-state-territory policy statement on the value and place of community and adult education.
  • Examine VET funding programs to ensure community providers are not disadvantaged by unnecessary regulations.
  • Collect and publish annual data on regional and rural student outcomes and provider comparisons.

The full report The Role of Community Education in Australian Regional and Rural Economic Development is available here on Community Colleges Australia’s website.

 

(image below: logging truck driving through Armidale NSW)

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Australian post-school education in the age of Trump

January 17, 2017

My new blog post on “Australian post-school education in the age of Trump” has been published by Open Forum.

The post addresses the question: “With the upcoming inauguration of Donald J. Trump as US President on January 20th, what ‘spill-over’ impact will his presidency have on Australian vocational education and training (VET)?”

You can read it here on Open Forum or here on the Community Colleges Australia website, under the title “Australian VET in the age of Trump”.


Make education an investment not a commodity

January 10, 2017

My letter to the editor appeared in today’s (10 January 2017) The Sydney Morning Herald, under the title “Time to value education as investment, not commodity.”  As published by the Herald, the letter reads:

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Time to value education as investment, not commodity

The Australasian College Broadway will not be the last private for-profit vocational education and training college to close its doors (“Australasian College Broadway: Teenagers left ‘devastated’ by collapse and in thousands of dollars of debt”, January 9). We have a virtual absence of Commonwealth government policy on the future of vocational education and training (VET).

The replacement of the scandal-ridden VET FEE-HELP loans, which Australasian College Broadway relied on as virtually its sole business model, with the new VET Student Loans program, does not go to the core of the problem: an unbalanced system created by the marketisation/privatisation of VET.

Both the Australian schools sector and higher education sector are coherent compared to VET. Not coincidentally, neither of those two educational sectors have a 67 per cent private for-profit “market penetration” the way that the VET sector has (3 million of 4.5 million VET students in 2015).

It’s time to return to quality education over a so-called “efficient” private market, which turned out not to be so “efficient” after all, relying on unsustainable government subsidies. It’s time to value education as an investment and not as a commodity.

Don Perlgut, Chief Executive, Community Colleges Australia, Sydney

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Click here to view the letter online (note: you will need to scroll down the page) or view a copy of the paper edition below.

For more details of this discussion, go to the website of Community Colleges Australia.

You can also view a copy of the letter in the paper edition below:

sydney-morning-herald-letter-10jan2017-cropped


Putting ‘community’ back into Australian vocational education and training

May 11, 2016

My blog post entitled ““Re-inserting ‘community’ into Australian Vocational Education and Training” has just been published by Open Forum (11 May 2016).

In this article, I discuss how in the lead up to the federal election on July 2, Australian vocational education (VET) has now entered the political debate. I argue that the most cost-effective VET policy initiative is to reinvigorate the community education providers and build on their capacity.

I discuss the VET FEE-HELP loan scandals, the collapse of private for-profit vocational education colleges and how VET has entered the political debate – given a high priority by Bill Shorten (Leader of the Opposition) in his “Budget Reply” speech last week, and the recently announced Commonwealth Discussion Paper on the re-design of VET FEE-HELP.  I conclude by describing the vitality and importance of community education – particularly in regional and rural Australia, ending with a message to the politicians of all political persuasions: reinvigorating the community education providers and building on their capacity, can and will be one of the most cost-effective VET policy initiatives you can implement.


Social Mobility: fact and fiction

April 21, 2014

In the March 3, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, business columnist James Surowiecki devotes his column to the myth of social mobility (“The Mobility Myth”, page 28). He points out that, “Since at least the days of Horatio Alger, a cornerstone of American thinking has been the hope of social mobility – the idea that, as Lawrence Samuel put it … anyone can, ‘through dedication and with a can-do spirit, climb the ladder of success.’”

I understand that Horatio Alger background, having grown up in middle class American suburbia in the 1960s, the child of parents who were born to Eastern European immigrants. In many undefinable ways, I carry that ingrained (and increasingly misplaced) American optimism with me still. (The first self-help book I can remember reading was Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, still in print some 62 years after first publication).

Surowiecki refers to the 1962 book by Michael Harrington, entitled The Other America: Poverty in the United States (a book that I picked up in college in the USA and have around carried with me to subsequent residences in two countries). Unfortunately, Harrington’s famous statement (pp. 14-15 of my edition) is still true:

The real explanation of why the poor are where they are is that they made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents, in the wrong section of the country, in the wrong industry, or in the wrong racial or ethnic group. Once that mistake has been made, they could have been paragons of will and morality, but most of them would never have had a chance to get out of the other America.

Surowiecki goes on to point out that:

The middle class isn’t all that mobile, either: only twenty per cent of people born into the middle quintile ever make it into the top one. And although we think of U.S. society as archetypally open, mobility here is lower than in most European countries.

Nevertheless, “this wasn’t always the case”, back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the myth continues. As a result, “Americans are less concerned than Europeans about inequality and more confident that society is meritocratic. The problem is that, over time, the American dream has become increasingly untethered from American reality.”

In an article in American Prospect (29 May 2013, “The Wealthy Kids are All Right”), Chuck Collins refers to the luck of the wealthy as the “born on third base factor”. This refers to the game of baseball: when you make it to third base, you have an awfully good chance of scoring a “run” and making it “home”. So starting out on “third base” is a very privileged spot.

Collins’ article is one of the best guides of what to do if you want to give your university (college) age children the best start in life. He continues:

The idea that people’s futures might be economically determined deeply offends U.S. sensibilities. We want to believe that individual moxie matters, that a person’s creativity, effort, and intelligence will lead to economic success. Stories of exceptional strivers, heroically overcoming a stacked deck of obstacles, divert our attention from the data. But the large mega-trends are now indisputable. If you fail to pick wealthy parents and want to experience the American dream today, move to Canada.

Or to Australia. Yes, Australia.

That’s the good news for us who live here. As The Economist (“Rich Rewards”, 12 June 2013) puts it:

This is no joke: the people of Australia and Canada have twice the social mobility of their counterparts in America and Britain despite having Gini coefficients in the same ballpark. No one quite knows why, but possible factors include America’s thinner safety net and deeper poverty.

The key study here is one funded by the Sutton Trust on social mobility in the USA, Canada, Australia the United Kingdom. Miles Corak, a professor of labour economics at the University of Ottawa, has three key conclusions:

1. The extent that a son’s earnings are related to his father’s is a good proxy (my word) for social mobility. “The tie between father and son earnings is almost twice as strong in the United Kingdom and the United States than it is in Canada and Australia, two countries to which they can reasonably be compared.”

2. “This variation occurs in a particular way: mobility is higher where inequality is lower.” And finally,

3. “In an era of growing inequality, the more unequal societies—like the United Kingdom and the United States—will likely not experience more mobility without concerted and effective public policy addressed not just to inequality but also to how families function, how the education system develops the human capital of relatively disadvantaged children, and how families interact with a labour market that is increasingly more polarized.”

Here in Australia, one of the most articulate proponents of dealing with rising inequality is parliamentarian Andrew Leigh.  His recent (27 March 2014) speech to the National Press Club provides a good summary of Australian issues.

May 21, 2014:  An Australian postscript – The Evatt Foundation, in a carefully argued article, details the three most important reasons for Australia’s better-than-the-USA equality of wealth:

1. Australia’s “horizontal fiscal equalisation” (and the pre-requisite “vertical fiscal imbalance”), which takes some explanation.  Effectively, it means:

That Washington only collects about 20 per cent more tax than it spends, whereas Canberra collects about 50 per cent more. These funds are then distributed back to the states and territories in a way designed to ensure all jurisdictions have the capacity to provide the same average level of services. In school funding, for example, every Australian state and territory government has the capacity to provide the same average level of service, whereas in the US, rich states such as New York and New Jersey spend three times the money per pupil as poor states such as Utah and Idaho. Such gross inequity cannot happen in Australia.

2. Universal access to health care services and reasonably priced medicines (through Australia’s Medicare system) is the “major reason why Australia has a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US”.

3. A substantially higher minimum wage in Australia has prevented the development of the “working poor” on the same scale.


MoneySmart Rookie financial literacy resources for young people go live

June 9, 2013

For the past year, I have been the project manager for ASIC’s “MoneySmart Rookie – financial literacy for young people” project and educational initiative.  A few days ago, the first of these resources went live on ASIC’s MoneySmart website, including twenty different videos and coverage of seven different topics (credit and debt, mobile phones, moving out of home, first job, first car, shopping & banking online and study).

Have a look here and find the educator resources on the MoneySmart Teaching website.

MoneySmart Rookie banner

Postscript on 19 June:

– The project was launched yesterday (18 June 2013) here in Sydney at the UTS function centre.  You read the ASIC media release here, Deputy Chair Peter Kell’s launch speech here and a news.com.au article here.

And here are the poster images of the “rookie errors” campaign aimed at young people aged (16 to 25) that accompanies the MoneySmart Rookie education initiative:

Rookie errors phone Rookie errors car Rookie errors credit Rookie errors job Rookie errors moving out Rookie errors online


Harvard, Yale and the Making of American Presidents

August 16, 2012

Everywhere I look now there seems to be discussion about the nature of elite universities and their role in – using the words of Nicolas Lemann (The New Yorker, May 28, 2012, p. 24) – “controlling access to life membership in the elite”.

Lemann also reminds us of the high degree of alignment between the top universities and national political leadership in the USA:

Now that we know that either Obama or Romney will be President next year, we also know that, from 1989 through at least 2017, every President of the United States will have had a degree from either Harvard or Yale, or in the case of George W. Bush, both  That could be a three-decade accident, or it may be a sign of something lasting – the educational version of the inequality surge, elevating the “one per cent” institutions far above the rest.

This phenomenon has been clear for a while.  Bob Greene (CNN) wrote about it in April 2012 and the Harvard Gazette noted it back in November 2008.  For the record, the following eight Presidents all graduated Harvard, the institution which has produced the most people to hold the nation’s top office:

–          Barack Obama (J.D., 1991)

–          George W. Bush (M.B.A. 1975)

–          John F. Kennedy (S.B. 1940)

–          Franklin D. Roosevelt (A.B. 1903)

–          Theodore Roosevelt (A.B. 1880)

–          Rutherford B. Hayes (LLB. 1845)

–          John Quincy Adams A.B. 1787, A.M. 1790

–          John Adams (A.B. 1755, A.M. 1758)

And Yale clocks in with the following five Presidents:

–          George W. Bush (B.A. 1968)

–          Bill Clinton (Law 1973)

–          George H. W. Bush  (B.A. 1948)

–          Gerald Ford (Law 1941)

–          William H. Taft (B.A. 1878)

And finally, here is the list of other universities which have produced more than one President:

–          William and Mary (3): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler

–          Princeton (2): James Madison, Woodrow Wilson

–          West Point (2): Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower

–          Columbia (2): Barack Obama (undergrad), Franklin D. Roosevelt (post-grad)

I write with some knowledge about elite American universities, having attended two Ivy League colleges – Dartmouth and Cornell – and receiving my Bachelors degree from the latter.  Again, for the record, here is my brief potted history of American colleges:  I applied to eight colleges out of high school – five “Ivies” – Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, Princeton and University of Pennsylvania, and to three others – Union, Middlebury and Rutgers.  I was accepted at Dartmouth, Middlebury, Union and Rutgers and enrolled at Dartmouth because (a) a close friend was there and (b) it was the most prestigious place to accept me.  I left Dartmouth after one year and somewhat later (after more than a few life adventures) applied to and was accepted by Cornell (College of Arts and Sciences), where I graduated with my B.A. (or A.B., as they called it there, in the great Ivy tradition).

The year after I graduated Cornell, I lived in Boston and took an “extension” course at Harvard University in city and regional planning taught by Professor Lawrence Mann.  When I applied for Masters degree programs in city planning, I was accepted by Harvard, UCLA and the University of California at Berkeley (but rejected, I hasten to add, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology).  I consulted Mann about my choice, and he had three words of advice:  “Go to Berkeley.”  So I did and received my Masters degree from there.  But, I can say, I ALMOST went to Harvard for grad school.  To complete the circle, in April of this year, I received my PhD from Macquarie University here in Sydney, having originally started a PhD at Flinders University in Adelaide many years before and yet a prior PhD at Macquarie as well.

Thus I write with some experience about the American college system.  And I can tell you that the nature of American elite colleges is not a new phenomenon:  my own choices (five Ivy League applications) indicate that.  And Dartmouth at the time?  I still hold the “Freshman book” (the Dartmouth precursor of what turned into “Facebook”), with some 800 fresh faces.  At least one third attended elite private prep schools in the northeast.  About fifty percent were first team football players and I think a staggering 10 percent (yes, some 80 students) were captains of their football teams (I was not).

Elite is not new. Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are the inheritors of a tradition of “Harvard men” that extends back to the second American President – yes to John Adams.  Now, that’s history, and in this case elite tertiary education easily trumps racial differences.  Would Obama have become President if he had attended Howard University or Spelman College, both historically “black” institutions?  I suspect not.  Which may lead us to conclude that while racism may be fading (but by no means gone, more on that another time), elite education – as a concept, theme and necessity to enter the “power elite” – lives on stronger than ever.

Postscript:  For this reason, it may not be odd that I have just finished a rather unique and highly engaging novel about American college admissions:  appropriately called Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the book’s main character is an admissions officer at Princeton University (which Korelitz once was) and holds a bachelors degree from Dartmouth (Korelitz again).  I am not certain what form of Ivy League coincidence is taking place, but the previous novel I finished this year was The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  All of the major characters of that book attended Brown University.