Total VET students and courses 2016 – First look

Woohooo, it’s that time of the year again.  NCVER has just released the Total Vet students and courses Data for 2016.  Yes I know lot of you are now going ‘you’re weird’ and to be fair you are probably right, however, there is more often than not some lovely little gems of information tucked away in this report.  So lets have a look at what it says and see where that takes us.

First the highlights; 4279 providers delivered TVA training to about 4.2 million students in 2016, which represents an almost 5% rise in the number of enrolled students over the 2015 figures. There was also an around 1% rise in the overall participation rates in VET in the population aged 15-64, with  participation highest among 15 to 19 year olds at 46.2%.  This is on the back of an almost 3% decrease in the amount of commonwealth or state government funded training and while management and commerce remains the most popular field of education despite a 5.8% decline in program enrollments, the heath sector saw the largest one rise increasing by 30% in 2016.  The other interesting fact is that about 10% of all of the RTOs listed on had no enrollment activity during 2016.

So what do all of these highlights mean, before we dig a little bit deeper into the data.  I have to say that realistically it seems to paint a fairly good picture for the VET sector in Australia.  We are seeing solid levels of participation across the Australian population and far more importantly I think we are seeing almost 50% of the 15 to 19 age group involved in some kind of VET activity in 2016.  The decline in funded programs is however a concern, and a concern that must be addressed by both state and federal governments.  For too long now the VET sector has been under funded with the amount of public money coming into the sector reducing in real terms and falling further and further behind K-12 and university funding.

So what other pieces of information can we glean from the report.  Well Queensland had the highest overall number of providers at 1270, with VIC close behind with 1100 and NSW third with just over 1000 providers.  As you would expect the three eastern states dwarf the other states, with each of them having more providers than all of the other states combined.  This trend is also echoed in the total student numbers a well.  NSW leading here with 1.1 million students with both VIC and QLD coming in not far behind, each with over 900,000 students.  When we look at the student numbers a couple of really interesting points pop out.  Firstly female students increased by 10.5% to 2.0 million, with the proportion of female students increasing from 44.1% to 46.5%.  In addition indigenous students increased by 20.1%, accounting for 4.0% of the total estimated VET student population and students with a disability increased by 1.8% or 4.3% of total estimated students.  All other things being equal, this has to be a great result for the sector, with those populations which have traditionally struggled comparatively in terms of workforce participation and education, becoming more engage with vocational education.

When we consider the data around program enrollments, that is what people studied and how, we see a trend or a movement which I think is going to continue into the future.  Across the board in 2016, compared with 2015 national training package program enrollments decreased by 4.1%, while skill sets increased by 111.6%.  This is something that a significant number of commentators including myself have been suggesting, has been occurring and will to continue to occur over time.  I would suggest that in our fast changing workplaces, both workers and employers are looking build and improve specific skills to meet market demands quickly and effectively, thus preferring skill sets and single unit training over full qualifications.

The largest percentage of enrollments was, as we would expect at the Certificate III level with 26% of all enrollments, with diploma level and certificate II qualifications coming in next, both with in excess of 16% of enrollments.  These are the core business areas for the VET sector so the fact that they account for in excess of 60% of enrollments is no surprise.  We saw the health sector record the largest growth of all fields of education increasing by 30.3%, however troublingly we saw by contrast, Natural and physical sciences experienced the largest decline in program enrollments, decreasing by 15.0%.  While our ageing population and the ever growing need for health and allied health professional is clearly driving the growth in that sector, I suspect that a severe misalignment between the training packages and the needs of the science sectors may be the underlying reason behind the decrease in enrollments there.

So that’s it for a first look, I think there are real positives that the VET sector can take from the data in this report, but there are also some things to consider quite seriously, such as the continued decrease in funding and the lack of student enrolling in science related courses.  It will be interesting to see if anything else pops up out of the data as it it looked at more closely and read in conjunction with other data.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.



Apprenticeships – Time for a Change

This has been something which has been on my mind for a few months now and I have had a number of conversations with people inside and outside the Apprenticeship system or more precisely the apprenticeship management system.  The main arm of the management of apprenticeships and traineeships at the moment is the Australian Apprenticeship Support network or the ASSNs which is an evolution of the previous systems that were in place to help everyone involved, employer, student, provider and the government to get the best outcomes out of the system.  Before I go on, it is important to note that I am not talking about apprenticeships and traineeships themselves or how they are structured, delivered or anything like that. What I want to talk about today is the future of the ASSN and whether or not it is a model which is viable to take us forward into the 2020’s or if it really is something which has had its day. This should also not be taken as an attack on the organisations which form the ASSN or the work that they do.  It is certain that they, for the most part do a fantastic job.  The issue is whether or not the approximately $190 million which the government providers these organisations to provide this service is the simplest, most effective and most efficient method and whether not there may be better ways of delivering this service.

Why I say this is because in this digital world, it seems a little difficult for me to understand the need to have people driving around, talking to employers and providers, recruiting, mentoring and all of the other things they seem to do, when the underlying process should be very simple.  Now there has been a move to streamline the system with the AASN now utilising a lot of electronic forms and data, rather than the clearly time consuming and costly paper system which used to exist and this in itself points to the crux of the idea and the problem.

It seems to me that we may have an over complicated system providing a solution to a problem which is quite straightforward.  There are in essence only three parties which are involved in the apprentice or traineeship, that is the student, the employer and the provider (RTO).  Surely in this age of digital disruption some sort of self service model for employers, where they simply registered to become a employer for an apprentice or trainee and picked the RTO they wanted to use from a drop down box of government contracted providers, with a portal for students to then apply for the available roles is something which is not beyond the realm of imagining let alone creating.  There seems to be little or no reason why contracts and agreements, payments etc could not be handled through the same system.  All that would then be required would be a group of people to ensure, that the various requirements of the whole process were being met and that it was producing the outcomes which were required.

Now I understand that I may have grossly oversimplified the entire apprenticeship process, however that was to some extent my purpose here.  Why would I do that?  To point out that I think the days of the AASN are numbered.  I think that within the next 2-5 years we will see a significant shift in the way in which these services are delivered to stakeholders on behalf of the government. We will see more self service style options and more centralised management of the the system, why?  Because it is cheaper and has the potential to be more efficient.

If I was an AASN organisation I would be thinking about where my next income stream was coming from.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

VSL – The first six months, well sort of.

As many of you are aware the report on the first 6 months of the Vet Student Loans (VSL) Scheme, which replaced VFH at the beginning of the year has been released.  Now while it is not too long (a mere 31 pages, plus a spreadsheet of data), it does make for some interesting reading.  It is important to note that this report is on the six month transition period between VFH and VSL and some of the data is for providers, who while part of the transitional program did not have their approval to deliver VSL courses renewed under the full scheme.  There were 167 under the provisional arrangements but only approximately 125 have continued into the full scheme.  The other significant thing to remember about some of the details in this report is that there are caps of 5,10 or $15,000 associated with the vast majority of courses listed, with Aviation courses having a much higher cap than others.

Through transition there were 167 providers, 35 were TAFEs and other public institutions and 132 were private providers, and interestingly of that 167 only 138 enrolled students who accessed VSL funding.  A total of 24,492 students had VSL approved for a total of $78,131,044.  This represents an average across all enrolments of just over $3000 per student.  One might say on these figures alone, if this program has achieved nothing else it looks as if it has achieved the government’s goal of reducing the student debt.  It seems clear that the days of unbridled greed both in terms of enrolments and the fees being charged are well and truly over.

What is a little bit more interesting is that public providers seem to be the clear winner in the VSL funding stakes, with TAFE QLD pulling in the most funding at a shade over $13 million, and TAFE NSW coming in second with only about $8 million.  In fact all but one of the top ten spots in the VSL league ladder are held by TAFEs or public institutions with BasAir aviation college in tenth place. The truly interesting thing for me in all of this is the change in the league tables for most popular courses, with the perennial winner, the diploma of business dropping back to sixth, and the fourth placed, under VSL, Diploma of Leadership and management sliding way down the pack to a dismal twenty-first.  The upward mover is screen and media now coming in at fourth having previously been pretty much unranked, with Nursing and Community services still holding onto their VSL popularity.  What does this mean, well, what it could mean is that without the unfettered fees of VFH, slinging brokers (which you can’t really use now anyway) in excess of $5,000 to grab students off the street so you could enroll them in an $18,000 Diploma of leadership and management is no longer a sustainable business model, and perhaps when these students aren’t being pressured into signing up over the phone, at their front door or as they exit centrelink it turns out that most people don’t actually want to do the course and perhaps only did it so they could get that Ipad that was on offer.  Oh sorry I must have slipped my cynical hat on there for a moment without noticing.

If I am being really honest this report doesn’t actually tell us very much at except that VSL has done what it had been expected to do which is to curb the out of control spending which had occurred under VFH, and reign in some of the abhorrent business practices which had grown up around the program as well.  It is far to early to tell whether the design is right, I get the feeling it is at a high level but needs some adjusting where the rubber hits the road, and whether new issues will pop up as the program marches forward.  Is it perfect, no.  Is it better than the utter disaster we had previously, at least in my opinion yes.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

The report on unduly short course duration and what it means

Unless you have been hiding under a rock recently you will have heard, I am sure, about the ASQA report into Unduly short duration courses.  This 171 page behemoth of a report looks into and makes recommendations regarding, what has been viewed by a lot of people as a significant issue with the deliver of VET qualifications, courses of study with very short actual duration’s.   Now I am not going to dig through the entire report, if you want to know what got us to this point and the general research and thinking behind the recommendations feel free to dive into it and have fun. Today I am just going to look at the recommendations made towards the end of the report, what I think of them and what effect they might have on the sector.

So the three recommendations that come out of the report are;

  1. Strengthening the Standards for RTOs by defining the term ‘amount of training’ to include the supervised learning and assessment activities required for both training packages and VET
    accredited courses.
  2. Ensuring effective regulation of training by enabling Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) to respond to identified risk by including appropriate training delivery requirements, including the amount of training, and
  3. Enhancing transparency by requiring public disclosure of the amount of training in product disclosure statements, presented in a consistent way to enable comparisons across courses.

Of these three, it seems at least to me that it is the last one which is the least contentious, that is requiring public disclosure of course duration.  Of course for it to be able to be effective recommendation one does really need to be sorted out first.  If there is no consistent definition of what constitutes  amount of training, and no consistent way of presenting this information, then three is really pointless.  let’s however put that to one side and I will come back to it later when I talk about the first recommendation.  I see no real issue with providers being required to publicly disclose the duration of their courses, both in a product disclosure statement and on MYSKILLS, and that the PDS be provided to every student.  One of the advantages here is that having this information publicly available is that not only does it provide the consumer with additional information which can be used to realistically compare programs, but also it provides the regulator with a metric which can be audited and the provider held to account were they don’t meet their own durations.

Let’s take a step back now though and look at recommendation one.  If recommendation three is fairly uncontentious then one and two are pretty polar opposites. There have long been arguments about what constitutes the amount of training, with a range of divergent opinions such as nominal hours meaning essentially face to face delivery hours to what constitutes supervised and unsupervised learning and to try and get a definition out of anyone about how long a course should actually be and to have some consistency around the answer if you do get it is almost impossible.

So let’s have a look at what the report says in recommendation one about what should or should not constitute ‘amount of training’ It is proposed that amount of training could include:

  • supervised or guided learning, such as:
    • tuition and other trainer-directed workshops or activities
    • structured self-paced study
    • structured work placement
    • projects and prescribed set tasks
  • Assessment activities.

It would not include unsupervised learning, such as:

  • private study or preparation, including prescribed reading, or
  • self-initiated learning or research.

Here is the thing, when I look at what is being recommended it seems pretty reasonable, or at worst it seems to cover all of the things I would want a definition like this to cover and excludes the things it probably should.   Anything that is instructor led is included which, well, should be an obvious inclusion, structured self-paced covers elearning, distance and those other forms of non instructed led delivery, this is certainly in my opinion another obvious one, but one which has been challenged (wrongly I would suggest) by some.  Structured work placement and a catch all for projects and other set tasks rounds out the list and a pretty fair list at that.  With a definition out of the way we can now move onto the Recommendation Two, the one that has been worrying people the most.

It is recommendation two where the rubber meets the road so to speak with the report suggesting that where the IRCs feel that there might be an unacceptable risk—including a risk to the learner, the workplace, the community or the environment—or where there are already systemic issues with the quality of training that the IRCs recommend a strategy to effectively mitigate the risk which may include:

  • specifying mandatory training delivery or assessment requirements (including the amount of
    training where this is warranted), and/or
  • providing enhanced guidance to RTOs through the inclusion of recommended training delivery or
    assessment requirements, including the amount of training.

We have already seen a movement towards this in a number of training packages, with mandatory work placement hours and specific assessment criteria (Student must have provided information to at least 3 clients) forming part of the newest iteration of the CHC package for high number of units and qualifications.  These kinds of criteria and placement hours have long been part of other packages and were sorely need in the CHC package and are probably something with most of the training packages should, if they already don’t include.  What the report doesn’t say is that mandatory ‘amount of training’ should be included in all packages and qualifications.  It does suggest that in;

  • aged and community care
  • early childhood education and care
  • security operations
  • equine programs
  • construction safety induction (‘White Card’), and
  • training and education,

that consideration be given, due to the fact that considerable risks have already been noted in these areas, to including a mandatory ‘amount of training’ for new learners as a matter of priority. Given the quality of some of the training which has been delivered in these areas I can’t say that I am adverse to this idea, importantly I am not adverse to this idea for new learners.  For people with experience in the sector undertaking training, placing the same mandatory ‘amount of training’  is unwarranted and would create undue difficulties for experienced people needing to obtain qualifications.  That being said, having a mandatory ‘amount of training’ for new learners would provide a guide or a benchmark from which training provided to more experienced learners could be judged.

While I understand that part of the argument against minimum durations is the how long does it take a person to be competent argument, to which the answer is of course well as long as it takes, which could of course vary widely between learners.  I might be a much faster learner than others and get competence in  half or a third of the time the average person takes, but also it may be the case that I may be slower and may take twice as long as average.  This doesn’t I think negate the fact that for new learners, we can probably come up with a fairly reasonable minimum mandatory ‘amount of training’ in those areas where this kind of intervention is required.

The other argument raised is that employers are ones who are pushing for quicker and quicker delivery times, they want new staff to be trained as quickly as possible. But here’s the thing, employers can’t have it both ways, they can’t have staff trained as quickly as possible and then complain about the quality in the next breath.  I have had this argument so many times with managers over the years in a variety of roles both in and out of RTOs, you can either have it fast, cheap or good, pick two because you can’t have all three and anyone who tells you you can is either lying or trying to sell you something.  Having  mandatory minimum ‘amount of training’ however cuts the legs of this argument straight away, the answer to the can we have that quicker question is simply no and we have official documentation to back it up.

All in all I can’t say that I have any real problems with the recommendations, yes, having a minimum mandatory ‘amount of training’ worries some people, however I would suggest that for a lot of the high quality providers in the market, they would be meeting or exceeding any minimum requirements that were ever made mandatory.

Anyway that just my opinion.

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