Things which might actually save TAFE

As I am sure you are all aware there have been conferences, talks by leading academics, pieces in the various papers and policy positions bandied about recently, all with the theme of how to save TAFE or that TAFE is at the tipping point of losing relevance and going the way of the dodo so to speak.  I am also sure that you are aware that the solutions posited by most of these pieces have in essence been, give all the money to TAFE.  Give TAFE between 70 & 100% of all the funding provided for the sector, the figure changes depending on who you listen to, provide it with rescue packages and invest heavily in it and everything will be ok, because it is the public provider and therefore always the better choice than non-public providers.  Of course it is difficult to see how the rhetoric could be different to this given the agendas and political leanings of the some of the groups involved, notably the AEU and The Greens.

What I find interesting about all of this rhetoric about ‘saving TAFE’ is that the vast majority of people in the non-public part of the VET sector fully support having a strong, vibrant, effective and efficient public VET system, operating together with strong, reputable non-public provision of VET through for profit, not for profit, enterprise and community providers.  However the position from the ‘save TAFE’ groups seem to be non-public is bad and should be shut out of everything and TAFE is always better.  I just find the difference in viewpoint to be really interesting.

If we take what seems to be a more reasonable position and one which has for many years had, for the most part, a level of bipartisan support, the idea that we need both public and non-public provision of vocational education in this country, then what might be some things which could actually improve things at TAFE.

All TAFE teachers get 4 weeks leave and the whole contact and non-contact hours rubbish is scrapped.  

There was hue and cry from the AEU Victorian branch recently when the Victorian government suggest that TAFE teachers should spend 900 rather than 700 hours teaching, about half of time they are paid to be there.  One of the reasons TAFE is seen as inefficient and costly is around the costs of it teaching and delivery of its teaching services.  For example, virtually no one else in the country gets approximately 10 weeks leave a year.  Why is this a problem, a colleague recently waited nearly 10 weeks for TAFE (not a QLD TAFE) to get back to him with a date for one (that’s right one) day of training for his staff.  The issue, there were only a limited number of people who could teach the class and they were having difficulty fitting a day into their schedule.

Remove TAFEs ‘social responsibilities’ and let others for example community and not for profit providers do it instead.

A lot is made of the additional ‘social responsibilities’ which have been put upon TAFE by governments.  Why not simply divest TAFE of these responsibilities and find providers in the NGO sector who can do it, leaving TAFE to do what should be its reason for existence TEACHING and EDUCATION.

Remove as much of the duplication of services and administration as possible.

This one is just a no brainer for me, and I know that several states are doing just this now, TAFE QLD for example.  The costs created by duplication of services and administration is in some cases very much like an episode of ‘Yes Minister”

Review and overhaul the management structures.

Again, what seems to be a no brainer, make TAFE as lean and flat in terms of its management structures as it can be, much like a lot of the high quality private providers.

Make TAFE actually accountable for the quality of their training and assessment activities in the same way non-public providers are, and make management responsible and subject to penalties if things go wrong.

Currently no one seems to take responsibility when something goes wrong with a TAFE (look at the recent example of TAFESA) and certainly no one is ever held responsible, accountable or suffers any penalty for things that happen under their watch.

So there we go, there are a couple of ideas for making TAFE great again, without simply just throwing money at it and hoping something works.  If any of you have any other ideas I would love to hear them as well.

Now I know that some of you are going to come back at me and say that this will cost jobs, and this will strip staff of their hard-won entitlements, but lets back the truck up a bit, you may not be able to have your cake and eat it.  Maybe, just maybe if you actually want to save TAFE there might be a cost in that, which people are going to have to accept.  You know like a 20% rise in teaching hours or less management and admin staff, but hey you wanted to save TAFE remember.

Anyway that’s just what I think.

Have a great weekend.

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What can we do about the shambles that is VET?

Well VET is in the news again, more private providers deregistered or gone into administration, TAFEs failing to meet compliance standards, not assessing students properly and generally behaving badly, and everyone yelling at each other and trying to pass the blame.  It really is, well to put it mildly, more than a bit of a shambles.

Now I know that the vast majority of people in this sector, at all levels, whether they are trainers and assessors, administrative people, or management, and across all parts of the sector, private, public, not for profit, community and enterprise, are committed to doing the right thing and to assisting whoever they work with to achieve the best possible outcomes they can from their study.  I know this.  I know this because I have worked in and with the sector for years.  However, when someone from outside looks in or picks up the paper, or thinks about Vocational education as an appropriate choice, what do they see?  They see a shambles, a mess, and not just a small mess, a mess that has been going on for years now.  Infighting, bickering, passing of blame, atrocious business practices, appalling customer (student) service.  In short they see something like a cow that is stuck in the mud which would probably be better off put out of is misery before it sinks any further. And there is the trouble, we can talk about all the great things the sector does, all the wonderful people in it, how it creates opportunity and outcomes, and is an enormous benefit to Australia.  But, if the sector looks like it should be taken down to the abattoir and turned into pet food, then we my friends have a very serious problem on our hands.

So what can be done to fix this?  What does everyone involved in VET in this country need to do to turn all of this around?  let’s be really frank here, we need to turn it around, because we are being left behind and our reputation for being one of the best if not the best vocational education countries in the world is definitely starting to fray.  Just the economic impact of international students not coming here to study because our VET education system looks like a garbage dump is enormous.

The first thing that needs to happen, is we need a common voice.  All of this bickering, infighting and blaming everyone else has to stop.  I know that TDA, ACPET, ERTO, AEU and every other interest group out there is trying to support their membership, but sometimes it doesn’t help!  Sometimes your agenda is harmful to the sector and just makes everything worse.  If this means that some TAFEs have to be closed or suspended from delivering courses, because they broke the rules and did a really crap job then so be it.  Stop defending them and blaming others.  If private providers don’t meet the standards or behave unconscionably, then don’t defend them, throw them out and advocate for their suspension or closure.  Stop defending these appalling behaviors.

Then, come together and present a single unified vision for the sector, put your agendas away for a little while and come up with a single plan.  Here’s the deal to, if some interest group, or peak organisation or union doesn’t want to play, then so be it, address it, say that they wouldn’t come to the party, couldn’t let go of their agenda, and don’t want to be part of the vision, and then present a cohesive plan for how VET should be run in this country and just ignore them.

If you are a provider you need to do the same thing. Stop just thinking about yourselves, stop looking at just the bottom line, stop thinking about how quickly you can pay off your Porsche, stop thinking about your next expansion and how you can slip in via the side door and get on the good side of the government, or increase your influence by pandering to a particular party line.  Its rubbish and you are stuffing it up for everyone else.  Start realising that this isn’t about you, it’s not about you scaling the bureaucratic ladder until you get to dizzying and rarefied heights, or creating a small fortune you can shift offshore.  It’s about the students and the industries that rely on you providing qualified, competent students, that they can employ.  In addition, stop defending other providers who have done the wrong thing, or better yet, tell someone when they are breaking the rules, you know stand up for the sector you are supposed to be invested in, rather than just yourself.

The same goes for trainers and assessors, and admin people.  I know that you are the guys who usually get shafted.  You are the people who have to put up with everything that flows from the top down and often for so many reasons, you don’t get any say, or choice, or have the ability to say anything without repercussions, or to just walk away and go somewhere else.  Here’s the thing though, if you don’t do something, or even try to do something, you like everyone else in the sector is complicit in this behavior.

Some of you might have noticed that I didn’t mention the government here at all.  Didn’t make any suggestions about what they could do?  That’s because they don’t have to do anything really.  Regardless of what side of the political landscape they are on, they just need to essentially do what they are told.  They need to support the sector in the way it needs to be supported.  They need to stop listening to one interest group over the other, or relying on academics or bureaucrats, who have never worked in the sector a day in their life to inform them.  This however can only happen if the sector comes together and presents them with a single unified vision and plan to drive VET forward and make it work.  If we can’t do that then governments are always going to play one off against the other, and pander to the side that is going to get them more votes or raise their profile.  That is what governments and ministers do.

The real issue here of course is if you don’t do something about this yourselves, then someone else is going to.  Someone else is going to come up with a grand idea of how to reform the sector and get in the governments ear and then you are stuck with whatever you get and its your own fault.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

 

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