VC Spence signals change at Sydney

Plus the many balls of VU Seals and private training in trouble

Lee’s not leaving

The Greens have shuffled portfolios and the bad new for Christopher Pyne and Kim Carr is that Lee Rhiannon keeps higher education. Bad for Minister Pyne because Senator Rhiannon is adamant in her opposition to deregulation, even by the Greens’ obdurate standards, and will rally students and university unionists. And bad new for Senator Carr because whatever he promises in the way of government spending in higher education Senator Rhiannon will promise more. On the same principle member for Melbourne (the seat encompassing the university) Adam Bandt is science spokesman. But who has training? It wasn’t mentioned on the list I saw.

ANU new 4

Up in lights

When the Vivid Festival lights shine on the University of Sydney tonight they will not spell out Vice Chancellor Michael Spence’s priorities. There’s no need, because Dr Spence has lit-up what he wants in a message to staff yesterday. On the basis of results from a staff-student survey he says that as the present four year strategic plan comes to an end the student experience still needs work. “Undergraduate education will therefore be the focus of the first formal strategy discussion.” And workplace culture and structure need attention as well. “The complexities of our organisational design make the university difficult for people both outside and inside the university to navigate, not least to know where and how decisions are made.” Gosh, is that a flashing neon-sign reading, “restructure” ?

On CMM’s count Uni Sydney joins UofAdelaide, Swinburne, Flinders and UniNSW, which are looking at big changes to operational areas for a range of reasons, ranging from saving money to invest in research to UNSW’s ambitious goals to become a global leader. But they have all emerged since the second Senate defeat of Christopher Pyne’s deregulation legislation. It seems that if Canberra cannot create the conditions for  change to higher education universities will do it for themselves.

 Training tanks

Training numbers declined last year, according to first figures from the estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research. Government-funded students peaked in 2012 at 1.924 million, before dropping to 1,853m in 2013 and declining by a further 3 per cent last year to 1.789m. While student numbers were steady in NSW and up 5 per cent in Queensland they declined by a significant 5 per cent in Victoria and nearly 7 per cent in Western Australia. However South Australia took the hugest hit, with a 21 per cent drop to 130 000, (after a 14 per cent rise between 2012 and 2013.) The SA decline, NCVER explains is due to the state capping student entitlements for “many” qualifications, which led to an overall decline in training.

This refers to SA cracking down on higher than anticipated demand under its Skills for All programme, which funded students at TAFE and private providers. (see item below)

Overall enrolments are increasing for higher qualifications. Certificate level courses either stayed stable or dropped, with the decline concentrated at the lower level. Certificate One enrolments were down by 17 per cent and Cert Two by 10 per cent. However graduate certificate numbers were also down by 32 per cent.

Seals balance many balls

If Victoria University’s Peter Dawkins needed some cheering up yesterday after partner club the Western Bulldogs were hammered by Melbourne (the football team not the university) on the weekend he got it from the World Congress on Science and Football. The congress, which has just wrapped up in Copenhagen will meet next year at VU’s Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (or SEALS). The congress is in interested football medicine, team psychology, globalisation, fandom plus all sorts of other subjects, which apply to soccer, rugby, American, Australian and Gaelic football. Given the organisers appear to think rugby is but one game perhaps it’s fortunate the congress will meet in Melbourne and not Sydney or Brisbane.

State-safe TAFE

The South Australian government is still mopping up the expensive Skills for All scheme, with training and higher education minister Gail Gago announcing last week a new programme, Work Ready. But what isn’t new is the continuation of cuts to private providers, in this case specifically to protect TAFE. “We are supporting TAFE SA while it transitions to more innovative and flexible training provision that better responds to community and industry needs and is more sustainable in a competitive market,” the minister said. What this means is that 60 000 of the 81 000 new and continuing training places will be reserved for TAFE, which is being backed to become “more sustainable.” Ms Gajo said that after the plan’s first year funded places the private sector can compete for will be “boosted.”

The private sector was ropeable when the news broke and Rod Camm, head of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, still is. “South Australia signed onto nationally agreed competition policy for vocational education in Australia. Breaching the contract must mean they are no longer eligible for $65 million from the Commonwealth. Industry, students and quality private providers can deliver the state’s skills needs through a direct engagement with the Australian government,” he said yesterday. Given already prickly relations between Canberra and the Weatherill government CMM suspects that federal training minister Simon Birmingham (a senator from SA as it happens) will not be keen on cutting funds for the state.

So the senator would have been pleased first thing yesterday when Fran Kelly asked him on RN about building submarines in South Australia and gay marriage rather than news on his patch.

Later in the day however the ABC did ask Senator Birmingham about the argument that SA has to give the money back and he said he had asked his officials to check. Alarmed is what he should be. The TAFE constituency has made the most of shonks and spivs rorting funding to discredit private providers and state governments in Victoria, New South Wales and now South Australia, are guaranteeing a market share for the public sector. This could be the beginning of the end for an open market in training provision.

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