One set of rules for all Providers?

Right, first off the bat, this is probably going to get a little ranty, so if you don’t feel like listening to me have a rant, albeit a rant with some facts to back it up, you might want to stop reading now.

Secondly, I am a supporter of TAFE.  I think as with non-public providers, public provider (TAFE) for the most part do a fantastic job and are a vital part of the fabric of VET in this country.

As I said in a post more about 18 months ago the VET system in this country is supposed to be regulated against one set of standards, which apply to all providers whether they are public, private, not for profit, community education or whatever.  If you deliver vocational in this country you are supposed to meet the standards and if you don’t there are supposed to be penalties for such non-compliance.  Clearly this is the biggest pile of horse s**t that has ever been perpetrated on this sector.

For the last few years we have seen the media, the unions, governments and regulators attack, on what at some points seemed to be a daily basis, non-public RTOs.  Now to be fair some of this was legitimate, but it is also fair to say that there was a hell of a lot of massaging the truth, to sell more papers, push a particular agenda or to grab the best sound bite.  The reputation of the sector and in particular the non-public part of the sector was basically covered in petrol, lit on fire, and burnt to a crisp, while at the same time the AEU and others held TAFE up to be a shining paragon of how Vocational education should be delivered.  The regulator (ASQA) took those RTOs who had done the wrong to task, deregistering some, applying sanctions and constraints, taking others to court and generally pursuing breeches vigorously.  The same can clearly not be said for how TAFE in general is regulated and treated.  Let’s just for a minute look at some of the ‘issues’ there have been with TAFE over the last couple of years and particularly very recently.

Kangan – Unsecured student records in an abandoned building

TAFESA – Aircraft maintenance certificates ‘not worth paper they are printed on’ 

TASTAFE – Jobs for the boys, or in the case girls

Kangan (again) and South West TAFE – rorting funding around engineering training and assessment

GOTAFE – What appears to be enrollment fraud

So let’s exclude the TASTAFE jobs for the girls scandal for the time being and just look at the other examples.  Any single one of these would have resulted in serious regulatory action if not deregistration of any non-public provider who had been found doing these things.  In fact the most recent with GOTAFE was exactly what a relatively large non-public provider was in fact deregistered for last year.   What then has happened to the TAFEs involved, well GOTAFE appear to have been reprimanded by the Department and TAFEA are embarrassed.


Where are the sanctions, were is the action from the regulator, where is the constant media attention day after day, where are the politicians jumping up and down.  I notice the Greens who were so quick to condemn the actions of private providers have been, well, silent and invisible about these issues.  And the AEU, the AEUs response to the most recent GOTAFE scandal was basically, its not the TAFEs fault they were forced to do it because the government didn’t give them enough money.   Again, you have got to be kidding me.  When a non-public provider did the same thing the AEU wanted them hung drawn and quartered but now that it is a TAFE its not their fault. Hypocrites.  

And where might one ask is ASQA, the national regulator, who is the regulator of note of all of the providers mentioned.  Nowhere to be seen.  I don’t think ASQA has made any single comment on any of these issues, not a single one, yet again had this been done by a non-public provider they would have been making statements about how they were cleaning up rouge providers, applying sanctions and deregistering providers.

Why nothing from ASQA you may ask?  That’s easy these TAFEs are state owned entities, who are clearly being protected by their respective state governments as the government knows that forcing a TAFE to close because it was well, rubbish, and deserved to be deregistered would have such a detrimental backlash on their electoral chances in the next election that not a single one has the backbone to actually let these activities by properly investigated and regulated.

So while non-public providers are still being sanctioned and have penalties imposed for their assessment practices not being perfect, or their compliance paperwork not spot on, these TAFEs are off doing whatever the hell they want with what only can be described as impunity.

The idea that there is one set of rules that apply to all of the providers of vocation education in this country is a steaming pile of garbage, and perhaps all of those people who have banged on for months and even years about the evil horrors of non-public providers, should perhaps, just once, look in their own back yard, take responsibility, and get their act together before they some vitriolically attack the non-public sector.  But we all know that is not going to happen.

Oh and on top of all of this Victorian TAFE teachers through the AEU Victoria have taken their bat and ball and gone home because it is outrageous to expect them to teach for about half of the time they are at work.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.



Higher level teaching degrees and VET

So as many of you are aware there has been some new research which has come out about degree qualifications and teaching in VET.  Now it is important to note that I have not at this point had an opportunity to look over the entire study and the conclusions that it draws, however given the information which is available there are at least some questions I think are worth airing.

Firstly however a comment, I always find it interesting when academics suggest that VET needs better teaching qualifications when most academics don’t have any formal teach qualifications at all, they are simply experts (they have a PhD or similar) in their field. So I always tend to think that if University ‘teachers’ are considered to be capable because they have experience in their field, why is their this suggestion that it should be different in VET. Some if not most of the VET people who get the best outcomes for their student are those with the deepest industry experience and currency.  So with that little comment out of the way.

My first worry here is study size and knowing who it was that the survey was sent to.  570 and 360 respondents out of a supposedly 80,000 strong workforce seems a little low to me to be jumping to conclusions from.  I mean that is after all less than 1% of the total workforce.  My other initial concern is who it was sent to.  I don’t think I ever remember seeing anything about this survey anywhere or anyone at all mentioning that it was underway.  I could be wrong or my memory could be going, but if anyone out there got an invitation to respond to the survey let me know I would be really interested.  I am interested because, often these studies do not cover what could be called a definitive cross-section of the industry.  I am reminded of some research done around supporting students with disabilities which was presented a NCVER No Frills a number of years back, where it turned out that the researcher had only spoken to TAFE providers about how they dealt with disabled student and when asked why she had not contacted any non-public providers her utterly ill-informed answer was ‘private providers don’t deal with students with disabilities so there was no point in asking them’.  Now I am not saying something like that has occurred in this survey, but it would be really interesting to see if all of the parts of the sector had been able to give input and if it had covered all of the states.

Now I come to the real question I have about this paper, what is the evidence for a statement like  “Whether it was in VET pedagogy or something else, a degree or above really made a difference to things like a teacher’s professionalism, their contribution to the organisation and a deep understanding of the necessity of audit procedures.”  Is it just anecdotal or is there something more substantive.  Is it based on the response from teachers themselves saying they thought it made a difference or is there some other more shall we say robust data, or even feedback from their managers and employers about how their professionalism or contribution increased as a result of undertaking a higher degree.  I mean the cynic in me always says, if I had paid a significant sum of money for a degree and someone asked me if it was worthwhile, people are mostly going to say yes, even if it wasn’t just to appear to not appear to have made an error in judgement.

All that aside however, it is important to note that I am not against people in VET getting higher level degrees, nor am I against the concept of these degrees. I do however think that any change in policy to suggest that higher level qualifications become the standard or the entry point should be resisted wholeheartedly.  What VET needs is people who are highly experienced and appropriately qualified in their fields, who are passionate about passing that knowledge on to students and consistently ensure that they are current and well versed in industry practice.  Then we need to provide them with appropriate training qualifications to be able to effectively pass that information on and to assess the competence of students effectively.  That is what this sector needs not more people with degrees, who haven’t actually been in the industry for years because they have been to busy getting their degree.

Here’s an idea, before any more academics tell the VET sector what is good for it and that having university teaching degrees will raise the standard of teaching, how about we change university policy and force all academics who are teaching at university to have higher level teaching degrees and lets see how well that goes down.  I still remember that idiot academic last year complaining that he wasn’t being allowed to teach in the VET sector because he didn’t have a certificate IV TAE, even though he had a PhD in his field.  Just because you have  PhD in something doesn’t mean you can actually teach what you know to anyone.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

A view from the outside – sort of.

Now that, as many of you know, I am out of the day to day business of vocational education and in a more organisational learning and development (among other things) space, I have been looking at the VET sector through a somewhat newish lens, though a lens I have admittedly looked through before and I am troubled by what I see.  Someone asked my the other day what I thought the biggest issues facing the sector were.  I started to suggest that the kinds of things people have heard me talk about at length and then it struck me that I needed to push all of that thinking away and have a fresh look at the sector as someone sitting outside of it, or at least only on the very edge and so I did and I realised something.

No one outside of the sector actually cares about what is happening in the sector.  No one really cares about the problems with the TAE, whether ASQA is doing the right thing the right way, compliance issues, what the issues with amount of training are, no one actually cares.  They only care when they go to a provider, ask for what they want, and get told they can’t have it or they can’t have it in the manner in which they want it, and even then they don’t really care as they will either except it or simply go to another provider.  And I am not just talking about business’s here, I am talking about individuals as well, and that is a very very big problem for the sector.

Yes lots of people are involved in the sector, lots of people, millions in fact gain education, training and qualifications through the VET sector in this country, and even if we discount international students and training there are massive sums of money involved and VET is a critical part of our economy, not just in terms of that money, but in terms of the generation of skills and knowledge within this country, in terms of making us as a whole, smarter, better, more skilled, and more knowledgeable.   But again, very few people outside the sector actually care.

Now to be fair this is not an active dislike of the sector, the rampant hatred of all things VET that we saw in the thick of the VET fee Help debacle has dissipated, it is simply that VET  is not on the radar of most people as something which is important, that they need to understand, or that they need to care about.  It is at best a piece towards the back of the paper to which people either respond with ‘bloody dodgy private providers’ or ‘bloody TAFE.”  The sector has unfortunately become something that people only take an interest in, when they intersect with it and then their interest is purely, for the most part, about how they get what they want from the system and once they have it the sector floats away from their lives.

We even see this when if we listen to the way the which the sector is thought about by not only those outside of it but those inside of it as well.  Principles, guidance counselors, and parents who view the sector as somewhere for those kids who aren’t going to get into university to go.  Providers, consultants and all of the other ancillary business’s around the sector itself, who see the sector as a way to make money.  Bureaucrats,  unions, governments and those in positions of power who see the sector as a means to an end, stepping stones in a career, or organisations who see the industry as nothing more than a way to train their staff for as little actual cost as possible.   Please don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting this is the way everyone thinks, but I can tell you it is far more prevalent than you might want to think.

So why is this the case, the answer is both simple and complex.  It is simple in that there is no single connected vision for vocational education in this country, there is clear no statement about the value of vocational education.  Governments talk about how important it is, but generally only to those from the sector, and in the background keep reducing in real terms the amount of funding the sector has. It is never the center piece of discussion, jammed in between K-12 and University and seen by many nothing more than a way to appear to reduce unemployment.

There is no single driving vision, that can be clearly articulated and disseminated, talked about, and used to educate the public on the enormous value that this sector brings to this country and that is real shame.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.  Hope all of you that went had a great #2017NVC and learnt something that you can take back and make the VET sector stronger.

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