TAFE in trouble

Which means for-profit VET stays in strife

Private training cops it again

News yesterday that the NSW Department of Fair Trading has partnered with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission in an inquiry into for-profit VET providers was a bit over-blown. That the ACCC is working with state agencies on colleges conning people into enrolling in vocational courses they cannot afford and lack the ability to complete has been on the record for a while. What is interesting is the enthusiasm of Matthew Mason-Cox, fair trading minister in the outgoing government to associate himself with the initiative. The public education lobby and the Greens have campaigned hard on protecting TAFE and every anecdote about private colleges exploiting people adds to the argument that education and training are best provided by the state.

The NSW move follows the broader inquiry into the industry established in Victoria by Training Minister Steve Herbert and federal minister Simon Birmingham’s crack down on providers exploiting individuals and gaming federal funding. The NSW move, as with the others, is a good and necessary development. For the private training industry to be a credible provider (which is not assured) the more shonks and spivs got rid of the better. The non government sector has 20 per cent or so of training places in NSW and Education minister Adrian Piccoli, has committed to capping its share at 30 per cent under the Smart and Skilled policy. But consumers – and voters – will take some convincing that for-profits should be training anybody at all.

ANU new 4

 Foundations of a surplus

Murdoch University acting vice chancellor Andrew “the stroller” Taggart announced a deficit for 2015 last month (CMM February 23) but said not to worry because Murdoch would be back in the black by 2017. Perhaps he was contemplating cash to come from the university’s 43-hectare Eastern Precinct project. This idea isn’t new, plans for big developments on vacant land on the South Street campus were around when John Yovich was in charge from 2002 to 2011 but the games of thrones the powerful play at Murdoch slowed things down. Now the idea of transforming “open pastures” into teaching and research accommodation plus TAFE and hospital facilities, all supported by housing and retail is back on the agenda. This month’s university senate meeting approved “in principle” stage one of the precinct and management says it is working on the plan with the state government. There is a bit of work to do. According to Margaret Seares’ 2013 report on the role of the state government in higher education, the university’s plan involves land use “not contemplated” by its act. When Sir John Kerr opened Murdoch back in 1974 the idea of vice chancellors as property developers would have seemed as unlikely as governor generals sacking a prime minister.

Enrolling elsewhere

In Victoria, TAFE is in trouble, so much trouble that it is hard to believe the wholesale exodus from public to private systems is all due to spivs promising people iPads if they enrol in crook courses. According to the state education department, TAFE enrolments dropped by 33 per cent from 2013 to 2014. Last year private providers teaching publicly funded students accounted for 56 per cent of the state total.

The state government is spinning this as a loss for low SES and regional students. “As public providers, TAFEs have traditionally looked after the most vulnerable students and as often the only providers of training in rural and regional areas, it is disturbing that the previous government’s massive cuts to TAFE funding have led to the impacts seen in this report.”

Fair enough, but as the money followed the students surely the cuts followed the kids who chose to go somewhere else. Some of them went to university, taking advantage of the demand driven system but with overall training enrolments down 1.2 per cent across the state the danger the danger is young people are dropping out of post-school education and/or training altogether.

But would they recognise it?

The University of Western Australia conduct inquiry into high profile water researcher Jorg Imberger is generating a great deal of debate. But another conduct inquiry involving forensic science professors Ian Dadour and John Watling has a much lower profile. The university says it is ongoing and will not comment further, especially on any connection to “an organisational change process” involving the Centre for Forensic Science. This dates from last August when a proposal was presented to staff but put on hold due to what Dean of Science Tony O’Donnell, “various circumstances”. The process re-starts with a staff meeting on Friday. Yesterday the university declined to comment on what is involved but I’m guessing if/when professors Dadour and Watling return to the office things there will be a bit different.

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Austrade gets involved

Austrade is keen to develop a 10-year plan for marketing international education and is holding consultations right around the country after Easter. The agency is interested in whether it is possible to double the number of international students studying here and “substantially increase” offshore numbers using Australian developed courses. Another couple of questions the agency could ask occur. Why not leave selling education to the people who do it for providers is one. In the absence of a command economy in exporting education whether Austrade essential is another.

Meanwhile out in the market

Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training reports that members who have struggled to see a business model which works for them in India should think about having another look. Apparently a new levy on company profits there means more money for training. “It may be worth reconsidering engagement in the emerging training market,” he says.

Ticket clipping continues

Last year the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy instructed US government funding agencies to ensure publication of publicly funded research is available to all without charge. The National Science Foundation has delivered, with a policy, that prescribes open access to articles and peer-reviewed conference papers within a year.

Good bit not great. There is open access of the gold variety and OA of the green kind, the former protects for-profit publishers by requiring payment for publication whereas the latter is real open access with publicly funded research available to the public, without any third party ticket clipping. While it is not easy to find in the policy, it seems that the NSF has followed the British lead and stuck with Gold OA. While “there will be no charge to investigators to deposit their articles” the NSF does allow applicants to request funding for “page charges or other journal costs.” Different billing-code same publishers’ profit line.

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Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au