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.

Academic snobbery, the AQF and VET

One of the very early posts that I wrote on this blog was about staff not wanting to undertake VET qualifications because they had a degree or a masters or a PhD in something and felt that VET was, well, beneath them.  As most of you know by now I have moved roles, out of a role where I was directly responsible for the day to day and strategic management of a VET provider into what could be called a more traditional Learning and Development role and guess what, the whole concept on academic snobbery has raised its head again, albeit in a slightly different way and not within the organisation that work for directly.

Part of the organisations workforce consists of staff who work with clients in a very specific area, so specific in fact that there are less than 300 qualified practitioners in Australia and a worldwide shortage in the area. The primary reason for this is that given the highly specialised nature of the work employment options, at least in Australia, are limited to an incredibly small number of organisations (about 6).  So as you might imagine there is significant difficulty in recruiting and training staff and a very limited number of educational programs designed to provide people with the qualification to work in the area.

This is where it gets interesting, despite various universities over the years trying to maintain courses in this area, student enrollment numbers have over time whittled these courses down to essentially two, with a third that offers the option for those with a degree in education to specialise in an even more specialised  portion of an already specialised field.  The two primary courses are a Masters offered by reputable Australian University and a Graduate Diploma offered by a private RTO which is part of one of the organisations which employ people in this field.  So one is a level 9 under the AQF and one is a level 8.  Where I come into this is that there has been a movement by some parties to to create another Graduate Diploma through another Australian university.

So I was talking through this with a range of interested parties over the last week and I asked the question as to why it was felt that another Graduate Diploma was needed.  The answer I got initially was that for at least a proportion of those people who wanted to enter the specialisation, particularly if they possessed relevant other qualifications a Masters was not necessary, because apart from the specialisation subjects a lot of the other content would have been covered in their previous studies.  This answer initially confused me because I hadn’t asked why we needed graduate diploma, I had asked why we needed another graduate diploma.  When I said this I was surprised by the answer, but I probably shouldn’t have been.  Oh well its a VET course not a university course, was the answer.  A little dumbfounded by the answer so I pushed on and asked if there was something wrong with the course and was met with again an answer which I found surprising.  No was the answer, the course was fantastic and written, trained and assessed by some of the best people in the field.  Just for the sake of information the course is full time face to face 3 days per week for 20 months with 300+ hours of practical work and assessment built in.  I suggested that if that was the case then what was the issue, and again was met with the the answer of well its a VET course so its not as good.  There was a little more back and forth like this until I realised that the person I was talking to really had no understanding at all of the VET sector and the rigor around developing an accredited program at a Graduate Diploma level through it, and their only educational experiences had been through universities.

I was as you might understand a little disheartened after this conversation as it drove home to me that this, what I can only call snobbery still exists.  It is particularly when we have so many providers now both public and private who are dual sector and there has been a lot of talk about the need for post secondary education to be more seamless and not to mention the obvious the AQF itself doesn’t distinguish and as a lot of you know the wording Vocational Graduate Diploma was removed several years ago to signify that there was no difference in reality between these types of qualifications regardless of where they were delivered.

Personally I think it is time that those in higher Ed who still hold these views take a good hard look at themselves and realise that the VET sector is an integral part of the post secondary education and in many cases as we have seen from the data produces better outcomes for its graduates than a university degree does.

 

Anyway thats just my opinion.

NCVER’s Government funded Student data; What does it tell us?

So for those of you who aren’t aware, NCVER released its government funded student data for 2016 recently and I think it has some interesting findings contained in it.  Firstly though what is the overall picture which the data presents us with. The big thing which should jump out of this data for anyone looking at this data is that 7.8% of the Australian population aged 15 to 64 years participated in the government-funded VET system in Australia in 2016.  That is about 1.3 million students, a 3.3% increase from the previous year.  This shows the enormous part that funded training plays in the VET landscape in Australia and the importance that it plays in allowing  people to undertake post secondary education.  Without this funding a significant amount of that 7.8% of the population would not have otherwise been able to access the training they needed to improve their workforce participation options.

Interestingly while there was an increase in students there was also a decrease in subject enrollments, primarily due to the fact that there was a significant (nearly 300%) increase in the number of people undertaking funded skill sets as opposed to full qualifications.  This points out a growing industry trend and one which must be acknowledge and properly dealt with by all of the various funding bodies involved in the sector, that of increasing demand for focused skill sets to meet the needs of an industry or a particular employer.  This is a trend which is on the rise rapidly not just in VET but across organisational learning and development and post secondary education in general.  Organisations and students are looking for short, focused courses containing a small number of units to fill skills and knowledge shortfalls and to be more competitive in rapidly changing markets.

Interestingly 52.2% of funded students, were enrolled in their study at TAFE or other government providers, with only 40.8% enrolled at what would generally be defined as private providers.  The balance of enrollments were through community education and other providers.  This represents an increase for TAFE in terms of students of 14.8%, with both private and community providers both dipping by around 7+%.  I find this interesting (and yes I know these are last years numbers and things can change) because there has been significant media coverage of the downturn in student numbers enrolled in TAFE’s.  What this seems to suggest, at least to me, is that if TAFE is clearly improving its position in the funded training market, then it must be losing substantially in the more competitive fee for service markets, including income contingent loans which as we all know are not Funded Training.  To be fair, the non-TAFE sector has for a long time (even before VFH) traditionally done better in the fee for service space for various reasons.  I will be interesting to see what the total VET activity data says this year, when we can get a picture of all enrollments to compare against the funded enrollment data.

Every demographic with the exclusion of 15-19 year old’s increased in terms of student numbers as did Females, indigenous people and people with disabilities, which is win as often these groups are the ones most in need of financial assistance in terms of their ability to undertake training.  The community services training package was the largest contributor to student numbers at 18.5%, which given the numbers of staff which will be needed in this sector in the coming years is probably a good thing.  The most popular fields of education though were engineering and education however information technology and natural and physical sciences had very significant drop offs at 14.6% and 16.4% respectively.

Overall the real impact of this report is that it shows that enormous value that funded training contributes to this country.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

P.S.  As some of you know I will be moving on from my current role at the end of this week, to take on a more traditional, less VET centric organisation Learning and development role.  I will be still quite strongly connected to the sector, just in a different way than I currently am.  It is also probably the case that (and I can’t promise this) that I will take a break from posting for a couple of weeks as I get up and running in the new role.

 

Paul

Competing Agendas and the VET sector

One of the significant problems for the VET sector is that there seems to be conflicting agendas or at the very least differing agendas which create tension within the system, between a range of its stakeholders.  If we consider the major stakeholder groups within the sector and what it is they want from the sector we should be able to see where these various tensions lay.

I would argue that the following four groups encompass the major stakeholder groups within the VET sector within Australia.

  1. Students
  2. Employers and Industry
  3. Government (State and Federal)
  4. Education providers (Public and Non-public)

Now simply by glancing at this list it may be possible to glean particular areas where tensions might arise between the needs, wants and agendas of these various groups.  Let’s have a look the various groups then in detail and see what their agendas for being involved in the VET sector might be.

Students, it might be suggested have the simplest of  agendas in relation to the sector, however as we have already touched on this may not be as clear as we first thought or how we have conceptualised the student agenda in relation to VET may simply not be correct.  It is my contention that the primary reason, the main agenda which students have, for accessing VET is to obtain a qualification.  This is of course where the first tension begins to rise.  Students want a qualification, because they can convert that qualification into workforce participation of some kind.  However, it is important to note here that if the purpose of significant numbers of students accessing the system is to gain a qualification, this in and of itself says nothing about their motivation towards learning or becoming competent.  It seems anecdotally at least that one of the primary concerns of a significant number of students accessing the system, particularly at higher levels and where they have at least some work experience in their field is ‘How long will it take me to finish this qualification?’

Why is this the case? Why are students or potential students concerned with how long it will take them to undertake the program and obtain their certificate?  The answer is simple and it is that they intend either immediately or at some time in the near future convert their qualification into improved workforce outcomes for themselves.

Some people may be cynical of this line of thought and suggest that surely students want to learn, to be engaged in the learning process and to gain the skills and knowledge they need to improve their workforce outcomes.  I am not suggesting that this is not the case, I am simply suggesting that students want to achieve this in as short a time as possible and as we shall see it is this motivation or agenda which creates tension, particularly with the agenda of the government and to a lesser extent, employers, industry and providers.

Employers and industry might be expected to have somewhat similar motivations in relation to students particularly in relation to the time taken to achieve a qualification.  There is a very real tension which exists between, business and training, which I have discussed in a various articles, where the drive from business is for the delivery of training to be conducted in as short a time frame as possible in order to ensure minimal disruption to day to day business requirements. It is the case however that there is for employers, businesses and industry and inherent tension in this position as employers in a range of circumstances need to ensure that their employees not only have the appropriate qualifications, but also have the skills and knowledge which should underlie that qualification and failure to do so may in some circumstances have catastrophic repercussions for the business in question.  It is of interest to note that this internal tension not only exists between business and VET but also between business and general learning and development programs.  The issue is more apparent in relation to VET however as the training and assessment requirements for a qualification are in general more rigorous than those required for general learning and development programs.

Again when we look at the agenda of the government in relation to VET it may be easy to assume that from their perspective their primary agenda is workforce participation, however as with other groups we need to be careful and think about the situation further.  It is both unfortunate and true that most elected officials in charge of the VET sector have very little knowledge of how the sector works, its outcomes and the motivations of other players in the sector.  This could be said of a wide variety of ministerial portfolios though.  More so than any other sector of the educational landscape VET is seen solution to a range of differing problems.  Primarily most governments tend to see VET as a solution to, or at the very least a significant force in relation to, the problem of unemployment, however not necessarily in the way in which most people might expect.  While it is certainly the case that providing unemployed people with training in particular vocational areas, should have the effect of making them more likely to be able to participate in the workforce.  There is of course an additional advantage to having unemployed in training and that is that given the way in which statistics can be calculated it can be said that those who are undertaking study are not unemployed, therefore reducing the number of people who appear to be unemployed.

So while it may be important to a government to want people to undertake training to improve their skills and knowledge for better workforce participation, or to provide better quality of services, increase innovation and improve the general education base of the nation, it seems that it may also be true, particularly at certain times, that it may also be advantageous to governments to simply have significant numbers of people involved in education programs, particularly where those people would otherwise be listed as simply unemployed.

It is also important to remember that wrapped around this agenda and any other agenda the government may have about vocational training and education is the fact the, at least in Australia, governments both state and federal are substantial financial contributors, either directly or indirectly to the costs associated with students obtaining vocational qualifications.

Various levels of government provide direct and indirect financial support to students, employers and industry, and public providers (TAFE), through a variety of channels and programs, however as myself and others have discussed at length, this creates an additional agenda for governments around value for money and return on investment.  This is simply because there are not inexhaustible public funds available to be funnelled towards vocational education.  It is this environment in particular where there is a mixture of public and private sources of financial inputs into the system, a limited resource environment, and a desire to create best possible returns on those investments, which reinforces the education as a business mindset, which is to my mind, and I have discussed this elsewhere, the mindset that should be adopted by all providers within the sector.

The other factor which arises in relation to the government financial commitments to the sector, relate directly to the impacts of policy settings and decisions on the overall health of the sector, and the perceived impact this has on both the sector and those in government.  One of the shining examples of this was the issues surrounding the VET FEE-Help program.  VFH was an in income contingent loan scheme, similar to the system used to fund students participation in the Higher education sector  The policy and contractual settings for which created a situation which had a devastating effect on the sector as a whole, on the perception of governments ability to manage the sector and on students ability to be able to convert their qualifications into usable workforce participation outcomes.  This statement should however not be taken to suggest that the entry of unscrupulous providers into the system for the sole purpose of utilising the VFH system to amass profit was not the actual cause of the issues.  It is simply to suggest that a funding system, the settings of which allow such behaviour to occur in the first place, show the deleterious effect to government decisions and policies can have upon the overall system.

All of this also sits atop specific agendas in relation to vocational education, which form part of the various party platforms.  At the far left of the spectrum we have the greens with an ideological position that non-public providers should receive no funding at all and that the government should support TAFE (public providers) to the exclusion of any other providers who might wish to be part of the system.  One the right, the Liberal party has an ideological position which favours competition in the market place, a more open view of access to funding, and a position which looks at the public providers, at least to some extent, as simply another provider within the system.  Somewhere in the middle we have most Labor, which while tending to fall more towards the public provider position held by the far left, sees a not insignificant place for private providers within the overall system.

When we then add the agenda perspective of VET providers (RTOs) both public and private we can start to see why we need to develop a way of thinking about the system which is able to address these tensions.  What then is the motivation of RTOs?  I think that this is both an interesting and troubling question for a lot of people and the initial off the cuff responses of a significant number of people will at least to some extent depend on their view of education, its status as a public good, where they sit upon the political spectrum.  It is not uncommon to hear criticism of private, though I prefer the term non-public providers, as being less concerned with educational outcomes and more concerned with profitability.  It is also not uncommon to hear criticism of TAFE (public providers) as being more concerned with administration, staff entitlements and titles, and maintaining the status quo, over education outcomes.  Both views are wrong and are based on long term misunderstandings in relation to the vocational education market and the goals and agendas of its various stakeholders.

It is very easy to make generalisations about the various types of providers in the sector, however it is important to realise that for the most part these generalisations are simply incorrect.  It seems that for the vast majority of providers both public and non -public that the motivation behind them is to produce quality student outcomes.  There is an issue with this motivation; while it would be wonderful it all students could always be provided with all the support they required to be able to undertake their chosen program of study and have the best materials, teaching, and administrative experiences, this cannot always be the case.  All of that costs money and someone, somewhere, sometime has to pay for it all and realistically payment can only come from one of three places, employers and industry, government or the students themselves.

The hard truth of vocational education, and in fact of any facet of formalised education, is that it is a business.  Whether you are a non-public, for profit provider, or a public TAFE, there is no difference.  There is not an inexhaustible amount of money, nor will students, employers or government simply pay any price for training and qualifications.  All providers need at the very least to be self-sustaining in terms of their income and revenue regardless where that revenue comes from and more and more we are seeing pressure on all providers to do more for students for less. This is particularly evident in terms of direct, entitlement style funding from government, where the expectations on providers are being raised while the amount of funding is decreasing or remaining the same.

So while the motivation of providers may well be to deliver high quality student outcomes, and I have no doubt that for the vast majority of providers this is the case, there are very simple economic factors which place pressure on the delivery of these services.  It is not economically viable for any provider, public or private to run a program at any level for only a handful of students.  TAFEs are often criticised for cancelling programs due to lack of number, however the very fact they have to cancel programs shows that there is fundamental economic factors at work and is a perfectly acceptable reaction to these factors.  If the cost of the delivery of a course is $20,000 and there are only three students enrolled for which the total income that the provider will receive is $9,000 then clearly the additional $11,000 must come from somewhere.  Either the government, an employer, or the student themselves must pay more for the course or revenues generated from other parts of the business will need to be redirected to subsidise the course in question.  Now some may feel that utilising revenue generated from other courses or activities to subsidise courses which have low student numbers is an acceptable use of those monies, particularly if it does not affect the overall financial viability of the provider, however supporting programs in one area with funds from other areas is fraught with issues and can create extreme difficulties where the initially more financially viable course becomes less viable.  The other significant issue which exists for those who would  suggest that subsidy from revenue of otherwise non-viable programs is appropriate, is an argument around fairness and equity both for students and in the market in general.

As we can see there are a significant number of tensions which exist in the VET sector both internally to the various stakeholder groups as well as between them.  There are a range of motivations and agendas attached to the various stakeholder within the sector, which unfortunately do not always sit comfortably with each other and as a result this increases the complexity of the industry, the development of sound policies and the development of ethical and sustainable business models  which can in fact cope with and respond to these various agendas.

 

Careers Australia in Voluntary Administration – Some comments

So just in case you haven’t heard the news today, Careers Australia was put into voluntary administration yesterday with PPB Advisory moving in as the administrators.  So as of yesterday there are 1000 staff who have been stood down and around 15,000 students who will have to organised into new courses through TDA who were Assurance Scheme for Careers.  I am going to be really blunt here.  I for one am not surprised that this has happened.  I said in a post earlier in the year when there was a range of closures of colleges which had grown large on a diet of VET Fee HELP, that as we approached the end of this financial year that we would see either the substantial contraction or closure of some of the big players.

Why has this happened?  The answer is actually very simple, as I talked about in the post mentioned above, heavy reliance on a single source of funding which can at any point be changed or removed is a recipe for disaster.  Careers Australia appear to have blamed the Federal Government and its policies around the sector, in particular the new VET student loans scheme and the governments decision not to allow Careers access to this scheme for their move into liquidation.

I have to say that I think if this is a true reflection of the rhetoric coming from Careers, then I think it is definitely stretching things a little.  Certainly it is the case that the cause of this collapse can probably be  linked to the decision by the government to change the way income contingent loans work and to deny Careers access to the new system.  However can we say that the Federal government is to blame, I think not.  In fact I actually struggling to find a scenario, except for the old, we are too big to fail, the government will have to bail us out mentality, that could have provided Careers and its management with the idea that they were ever going to be given full access to the new scheme.   I cannot see how someone within their management didn’t suggest that given the issues with the ACCC, a range of other issues, media coverage and general public sentiment, that there might be pretty good chance that the government, with its very strong position to clean up the sector, might, whether any of the issues raised about Careers were true or not, be reticent to give them access to the new scheme.  To be honest and to put in the word of Sir Humphrey Appleby, it would have been a brave and courageous decision by the minister and the department to allow them access to the scheme.

This should not be taken to suggest that I know anything about the inner workings of Careers or as to whether or not any of the allegations against them were true, or whether issues, if there were any, had not all been rectified.  It is just to say that simply from a point of view of being seen to be taking action and moving forward with the new scheme that, giving access to a provider which had been the subject of so much negative media scrutiny over the last 2 years would have undermined public perception of the scheme.  And the management of CA should have not only know that but have been prepared for it as well.  Even if they had been granted access to the new scheme this would have still seen their overall income drop by as much as two thirds, which would have had I suspect an equally devastating effect on them.  I am amazed that the management of CA appears not to have been working towards a solution or a way forward that didn’t include the VSL scheme, or maybe they did and we are seeing that in action now.  But again this is all simple speculation on my part and should not be taken to suggest anything about the mindset or plans and ideas of CA management.

It is yet another example of what happens when providers are far to heavily invested in one source of income, particularly where that source of funding is something that is controlled by the government.  Where your ability to be able to deliver the services you provide is entirely contingent on a single source of income and there are no plans or contingencies in place to react to changes in that income source there is always going to be a significant risk to continued financial sustainability.

I feel for the students and staff who have had their lives interrupted by this, however for a lot of us something like this happening has never been to far over the horizon.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

VET provides great outcomes. It just has to be done right.

We have seen recently with reports from NCVER and Skilling Australia that Vocational Education in this country is not actually, as some would like everyone to believe, a poor cousin to a university degree.  In fact it turns out that in a range of areas Australians, may actually be better focusing on obtaining a vocational qualification than a 3-4 year university degree.  While this may come as a surprise to many people outside the sector, I would hazard a guess that most of us within the sector are certainly aware that often a VET qualification provides much better outcomes in terms of workforce participation than a university degree.

Take for example the community sector, while it is certain that there are employment opportunities for university graduates in the sector and that the sector is growing substantially and will continue to grow over the next few years at least, the vast majority of roles which exist and will be created over the next few years are roles where qualifications at a certificate III or IV level are far more appropriate than higher level and degree qualifications.  Why?  That is a really easy question to answer, level III and IV qualifications provide students with the hands on skills they need to have to be able take on the range of support roles, which make up the vast majority of roles available.  They provide potential employees with actual skills and knowledge which enables them to take on the day to day activities which are required in these roles.  As someone who has recruited large numbers of staff for these sorts of roles, someone with a Certificate III or IV, is in most cases a much better choice than someone with social welfare style of degree.  This is also not just something which is just part of the community sector, there are many sectors where this is the case.  Outside of this, many apprenticeships, provide higher levels of income at completion, than are available to recent university graduates.

A lot of the perception has to do with how the University sector has been promoted and funded over the last 20 years and the general lack of promotion and appropriate funding programs of the VET sector. It also starts at high school, where VET has often been considered to be the solution for those students whose grades were not good enough to gain them an entry into a university degree, rather than a viable alternative to university for a wide range of students.  This of course stems from a general lack of understanding of the sector both from people outside the sector and unfortunately in too many cases from people within the sector as well.  I have often spoken at length of the generally woeful job that is done of promotion of this sector as a viable alternative to university and given this, it is little wonder that the idea that a university degree produces a better outcome seems to be the predominate viewpoint.

There is a side issue which goes along with this as well, which is that these workforce outcomes are of course contingent on the fact that VET providers are actually ensuring that the students who come out of there courses are competent and have been properly trained and assessed.  It is also important that students are enrolled in courses which are going to deliver workforce outcomes for them rather than those where the outcomes are far more tenuous.  Again if we look at the community sector we see significant numbers of students who were enrolled in Diploma’s of community services and counselling on the back of government funding models who are struggling to find employment because they would have been better off and had better workforce participation options available had they undertaken a certificate III or IV program.

To keep VET providing significant outcomes to students and other stakeholder we need to ensure that we are vigilant about not only competence, but the appropriateness of qualifications for the outcomes that the student and employers want.

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