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:

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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.


The Internship – A movie parable on work in the digital age

July 13, 2013

Inside the film “The Internship” is a potentially very funny, satiric and deeply insightful commentary struggling to emerge about the nature of work in the new digital age.  The story is simple and yet appealing to “middle America” (or middle Australia for that matter):  two guys in their early 40s, Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) and Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn, who co-wrote the screenplay), have been laid off from their watch distribution company in Georgia (okay, think, the southern suburbs of Adelaide, then).  They struggle to find meaningful work in the new digital economy.  (Anyone recognise this situation?  I sure do.)   Nick even swallows his pride and goes to work for his brother-in-law, a sleazy mattress store owner (Will Ferrell).

But here’s where fantasy comes in:  Nick and Billy apply – as a pair – for an internship at Google in California, have a Skype video interview from a public library (no less), and successfully bullshit their way in, despite knowing almost nothing and saying even less (see footnote below).   Apply as a pair?  To Google?  Set aside the unreality here, there is something very satisfying for those of us who are not truly exceptional to think that perhaps we could make it into a Google internship, and from Atlanta, no less.

All power to “The Internship” for engaging with what I call “the present moment” of the rapidly changing workplace.  The film also contains some wonderful pop culture, social and literacy references that I do not recall having made it into mainstream films before.  My favourite is the scene that quotes Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which is about why highly successful people achieve their success despite extraordinary competition.

“The Internship” also is, in its own sweet way (and it is sweet), a film about northern California.  I have written separately about how northern California and the Silicon Valley IT industry promote the concept of “abundance”; “The Internship” inhabits this world perfectly.  But it goes further, providing us with delightful shots of scenic San Francisco, a sort of Edenic paradise where the sun always shines and the food is free (at least at Google).  In one scene, a team of Google interns are sitting and lying on a headland in Marin County overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and looking back to San Francisco.  If you know the geography of this location, you have to wonder, “how did they get there?”  It’s an awfully long walk (hours, really) from the nightclubs that they had been visiting in the city in the previous scene.  Okay, “it’s only a movie” (quoting Alfred Hitchcock, who reportedly said that to actor Ingrid Bergman).

Ultimately “The Internship” has some great ideas wrapped up in a script that too often takes the easy way out.  We have a long Harry Potter-ish “Quidditch” match, a very long nightclub scene, and a bunch of good guys/bad guys set ups.  (Max Minghella plays the nasty “bad” cheating intern.) The good ideas? The film nicely illustrates the value of salesmanship, relationship management and customer engagement, as well as the importance of wisdom, experience and strategy over short-term tactics, arrogance and youthful naiveté.

In one true-to-life way, “The Internship” does capture the structural re-adjustment of work in our time:  in the film there appear to be about 100 interns vying for only five places at Google.  The ephemeral nature – what Ross Perlin describes in his book Intern Nation as “the ugly new culture” of internships – is on full show here.  I wonder if Google, which apparently approved the script and helped the production, truly understood the nature of what they were endorsing, by showing publicly the cut-throat and frequently unpleasant nature of internship practice.

Despite all that, “The Internship” ends on a triumphant note.  Yes (Spoiler here!  Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the ending!), our heroes are part of the winning team and get the jobs.  But the rest of them, the other 95, they all “lost”, right?  They don’t get the jobs.  It’s not “win-win”.  In fact, it’s very win-lose, and most of them lose.  This is a trend with many current films, where we are meant to celebrate triumph, but it’s actually disaster.  In “Man of Steel”, the bad guys lose – but New York City (and who knows where else?) has been devastated, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives.  In “World War Z”, the zombies are defeated – well, almost – but the world is a shadow of its former self.

The disaster in “The Internship” is not the other 95 interns.  They are bright young things with great educations from Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Duke and the rest.  They will probably all get good jobs, just not at Google.  No, the disaster is the changed nature of work, and the mattress salesman from Georgia or southern Adelaide.  He is not likely to find meaningful work in this age, if he can find any work at all as he ages.  And no amount of movie fantasy can change that.

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Footnote:

Nick and Billy’s successful application for the Google internship reminds me of a possibly fictional story about the writer Gertrude Stein.  Stein studied with philosopher and psychologist William James at Radcliffe College (part of Harvard University) from 1893 to 1897.  As the story goes, on her final philosophy examination paper one fine spring day, Stein handed the paper back in with only these words written:  “I don’t want to take this exam.  It’s too nice out.”  To that, James supposedly replied, “Miss Stein, you truly understand the meaning of philosophy”, and gave her an “A”.  I understand that generations of students have attempted to imitate Stein’s “stunt”, probably all of them without success.  But “The Internship” hews to the line that a few words of bullshit can cut through anything and get us in to Google or the “A” at Harvard.  The problem is:  very few of us are Gertrude Stein, and extremely few of us are dealing with William James.

Gertrude Stein portrait by Picasso(Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Picasso)


A triumph for remote Indigenous employment

November 15, 2011

One of the most astonishing places to visit in Australia is Uluru, the red rock mountain that arises from the Central Australian desert.  Located in what is close to the true geographic centre of the Australian continent some four hours drive from Alice Springs, Uluru has a strong spiritual attraction and a powerful physical presence that casts a magic over most visitors.

If you want to visit Uluru (previously called by its Anglo name, “Ayers Rock”), there is basically only one place to stay:  the Ayers Rock Resort, which has a range of different accommodation options – from camping up through five star luxury.

I have stayed at Ayers Rock Resort twice, and each time was vaguely aware of the Aboriginal communities which live virtually in the shadow of “the rock”.  I looked in vain for Indigenous employees at the Resort, however:  instead what I found was a great mixture of Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans … and just about everyone else.  Just no Indigenous empoyees, despite the crushing poverty and unemployment rates in nearby remote Indigenous communities – and despite the fact that the park in which Uluru sits is formally owned by the local Indigenous communities.  On my last trip there we only met one Indigenous person – the elder on a special Indigenous cultural tour we had booked.  For many (most?) people, it is possible to spend days in the area and not come across one Indigenous person.

That’s all about to change, according to news reports and a recent Government funding announcement.  With the Ayers Rock Resort now owned by the regional Indigenous Land Council (purchased in June of this year) and is now managed by its wholly owned Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia group, a major Indigenous employment and training program is about to commence, with substantial Government funding.  There are now plans to increase Indigenous employment with an initial 100 Indigenous trainees, and building the Resort up to 50% Indigenous staff.  That will be quite a challenge, but eminently worthy – and even if only partially successful, has the potential to become a world-leader in Indigenous employment, making an Uluru visit even more special.