Introduction and Overview
Following on from my last article where I spoke about what I perceived the election result would mean for the tertiary education sector and for EdventureCo, there’s been a lot happening in the sector.
Importantly, advice from ITECA and others within the VET sector indicate that Senator Cash, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business has committed to implementing the majority (if not all) of the recommendations of Steven Joyce’s Expert Review of the VET system. The Minister, in recent addresses, has made comments that suggest this is the case.
This is a significant decision by the government and if correct, one they’re to be congratulated on.
It’s a positive development for the sector overall and worth highlighting some of the key areas of the intended reforms that I think will have the greatest positive impact.
Employer groups, researchers, those holding senior positions within the government and the sector itself have all been calling for reform to the VET system for some time. For example this recent report in the Financial Review “Employers want trade skills not BAs” argues that in just five years’ time we’ll need 5.36 million workers with Certificate II, III or IV qualifications – compared with only 4.42 million workers with degrees.
The Chair of the Productivity Commission, Michael Brennan, is another powerful advocate for VET reform. In this recent article he identifies VET as one of two key sectors for reform. He singles out the “very fragmented and very patchwork” state of the sector, the need for better quality controls, and the problems created because “VET markets in various states have been subject to very, very significant, sudden policy interventions and changes, which have created a degree of uncertainty and probably undermined broader confidence in the system.”
This is where the full recommendations of the Joyce Review are crucial. The government has already committed to establish a National Skills Commission which will reduce the fragmentation and the variability in VET across the States and Territories. In his other recommendations which I’ve summarised Joyce also said we need to:
- Commit over time to reducing the differential in the level of student funding support between qualification-based vocational education and university education,
- Have the National Skills Commission work with the States to determine nationally consistent subsidy levels for qualifications, and
- Fund the VET sector to develop strong and successful qualification pathways in growing employment areas such as digital technologies and human services, including higher-level diplomas and apprenticeships at AQF levels 5 and 6.
Implemented properly these reforms would see more money made available to increase the number of VET students, beyond the funding in the Budget for 80,000 additional apprenticeships. They would also deliver much greater national consistency in VET funding; making life easier for employers and fairer for students. I note that ITECA is concerned about national consistency in funding because they’re worried that the regional differences in the costs of delivering training will be overlooked. In fact, the Joyce Review includes recommendations regarding the costs of regional delivery and for educating disadvantaged learners.
In addition to funding reform, we also need urgent reform to the Training Package model. While in theory it’s a good idea to get employers to specify the skills they need, have national agencies capture that information and record it in a Training Package which we as providers then develop courses to teach, it’s not working in practice and is too slow and cumbersome as the world moves through the 4th industrial revolution.
At a time when doctors here in Brisbane can now 3-D print part of the human skull, Rio Tinto has just launched the world’s largest robot (these are the automated trains servicing their Pilbara mines. Notably, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte who provides advice to EdventureCo on all things automation and robotics led Rio Tinto’s implementation of the automated “mine of the future” and still consults to them on their machine learning and data analytics capabilities) and the Hadrian X bricklaying robot can build the foundations of a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house in just three days, Australian employers need more flexible and responsive qualification design and delivery, as do training providers. If the sector does not get this right then the move to non-accredited training could seriously damage the accredited VET sector.
Joyce’s suggestion that Skills Service Organisations and Training Packages be replaced by employers and unions working directly with providers (in new Skills Organisations) is a good step and EdventureCo is keen to see the progress of the two pilots the government is funding.
Joyce makes a number of recommendations about VET regulation which I think will significantly improve things for providers – including a number aimed at bringing greater transparency to the way ASQA works. The recommendations I’m particularly looking forward to seeing implemented are:
- Ministers to immediately act to reduce the duplication and audit burden on RTOs by agreeing to common audit standards and information sharing between ASQA, DET and the States and Territories
- ASQA to provide more information and guidance to RTOs as to how it conducts its regulatory activities in order to improve understanding and compliance, and to reduce the cost and compliance burden to RTOs
- Consideration of funding for ASQA to help it engage more positively with the sector and RTOs
- The Department, not ASQA, to survey RTOs about ASQA’s performance and the performance of its auditors, and
- ASQA to independently re-assess students as a regular audit tool when serious concerns are raised about a provider
Training and Assessment Practices
I’m also keen to see training and assessment practices strengthened across the sector. Among the recommendations Joyce makes in this area are:
- Specify benchmark hours in qualifications
- Pilot independent assessment validation schemes
I fully support the specification of benchmark hours in qualifications, but whereas Joyce recommends these be determined by ASQA, I would like to see educators involved in these discussions with Industry Reference Committees, ASQA and funding agencies.
At a time when so much is changing in the workplace and in how education is consumed we need to reach agreement across the sector on meaningful benchmarks which ensure VET efficiency as well as quality.
The piloting of independent assessment validation schemes is welcomed. Building a professional mechanism where providers can validate their assessment decisions and practices without providing crucial IP to their competitors would be welcomed by many providers.
Finally though, while EdventureCo doesn’t specifically work with Indigenous communities, we strongly support efforts to encourage more enrolments by Indigenous learners in higher level VET qualifications, to improve completion rates and ensure stronger job outcomes for Indigenous graduates.
We urge the government to work with First Nations people to act on Recommendations 8.5 and 8.6 of the Review:
- to support the development of more quality Indigenous-owned-and-led RTOs to provide more Indigenous learners with the option of foundation and vocational training in an Indigenous cultural setting, and
- The Commonwealth, States and Territories to specifically measure levels of enrolment, progress and outcomes for Indigenous learners at relevant funded RTOs as part of a new VET funding agreement.
I think the implementation of the recommendations from the Joyce Review, overall, will be positive for the VET sector. If you’re not across the report I recommend it as an important read, it’s a good report and will guide VET reform over the next three years.
There’s a raft of other recommendations in the Review (71 in total) and some of them do need further debate. I’ll do some more thinking about the reforms I think we need more debate on and will share those ideas in the next couple of weeks.
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