What’s with TAFE

To suggest the administration of TAFE NSW is a shambles slurs shamblers (CMM September 10 2019).

So, the state government’s new review of the system, by David Gonski and Peter Shergold will have ample to address. Like why the last workforce survey, completed by 6700 staff, found just 21 per cent think, “our systems enable us to serve our customers well” and only 49 per cent agree, TAFE, “is committed to best practice in its industry,” (CMM December 2 2019).

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning, Paul Farnhill (Curtin U) on equity in HE – it’s not happening as expected or intended. It is a new essay in Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what we need now in higher education.

Plus, Merlin Crossley (UNSW) on the happy addiction of scientific research.

And Frank Larkins (Uni Melbourne) on how (really, really) exposed Group of Eight unis are to COVID-19.

Date to be fixed

Expectations of an end to the ban on students arriving direct from China remain that

“One day, and I hope that day comes very soon, our higher education sector will resume normal operations; the travel ban on China will be lifted and the remaining China-based students will arrive to begin studies for the year,” Dan Tehan speech to Universities Australia, today. Scroll down for the minister’s main messages.

The human touch for AI in learning

Study support service (and CMM advertiser) Studiosity is funding CSIRO’s Data 61 to work on natural language processing and deep learning

Studiosity nominates potential projects, including scoring student writing for readability, measures of student progression, and academic honesty support.

UNSW maths professor and Studiosity academic advisor Chris Tisdell says “a critical aspect of a 24/seven student support service is the human connection, as students become more confident and satisfied when connecting in real time with a person who knows that subject area.

Natural language processing, as part of AI, is also evolving incredibly quickly and I believe an enormous opportunity exists to combine the two to provide enhanced insights for educators and a continuously improving student experience.”

Uni teachers of the year

 Blake McKimmie, Barbara Masser and Mark Horswill (Uni Queensland) are the university teachers of the year.  They win for luring students to lectures with a crime drama screened in class. A case of whiteboard noir (sorry).   Full list of winners in appointments, achievements, below.

Deborah Terry’s research sell  

Evidence and expertise are crucial to “the big challenges facing humanity” Universities Australia chair will tell the National Press Club today

“After a hellish summer of bushfires, floods, drought and coronavirus, the big challenges facing humanity are at an alarming juncture …  Something is changing. That is not just the lived experience of everyday Australians over this longest of summers. It is also the evidence-based warning of our most informed experts,” she will say.

Professor Terry’s will use her address, coinciding with the UA annual conference, to set out the role university communities played on the front-line of fire-fighting this summer and set out the role of researchers and respect for scientific method in dealing with disasters.

“In countless news stories during the bushfires, drought, hailstorms, floods, dangerous smoke and now the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, our experts have shared their expertise with us all. … University fire experts teaching us about the changing scale and behaviour of fires.  Social scientists sharing expertise to support our communities in grief and recovery.  Conservation scientists sharing knowledge to race to save endangered species.”

This is typical Terry, astute to what works in politics. Instead of demands for more-money by-right, her message is in-line with the Dan Tehan playbook. The education minister wants universities to present him with a case for research that he can sell in cabinet and party-room. Professor Terry delivers.

Unis for a fair-go in employment

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency announces its pick of universities

UTS takes the flag, now being cited 19 times but there are certainly changes (CMM February 26 2019), with 13 universities and one related entity cited this year, down from 20 last. This year’s list is;

* UTS (19 years), * Western Sydney University (17 years) * Deakin U (14 years) *La Trobe University (16 years) * RMIT University (13 years) * Uni Wollongong (11 years) * University of Newcastle (ten years)

* Australian Catholic U (held for nine years) * Edith Cowan U (seven years) * Macquarie University (six years) * UOW Global Enterprises (six years) * Charles Sturt U (two years) * Victoria University (two years) * Western Sydney University (17 years)

Tehan takes policy charge

Education Minister Dan Tehan is expected to announce a significant enabler of his campus free speech policy and to foreshadow a swap market in undergraduate places

The minister’s Universities Australia conference address today will extend his commitment to universities applying the French model code of free speech, announcing the national student experience survey will now include a question on freedom of expression. “In the marketplace of ideas, no one should have the power to ‘cancel’ the people whose views they do not like. That is why our government wants to understand if all students feel their views are tolerated on campus – and not just those views that are popular,” Mr Tehan’s text states.

The minister is also expected to signal an extension of last year’s announcement that universities will be able to trade some enabling, sub-bachelor and Commonwealth supported postgraduate places (CMM November 4, November 5 2019).

“If we are going to ask the Australian people for more support, it is first incumbent upon us to maximise the value of what we already receive. Look at designated places for example: the government cut red tape and gave you more autonomy to maximise the distribution of your places, and this includes to trade places amongst yourselves.  I want to cut more red tape and give you that same autonomy when it comes to non-designated places.  We expect this will allow you to drive your institutions in distinctive ways that fit your particular missions.”

Mr Tehan will also focus on employment opportunities for graduates.

Pointing to the current Shergold review of senior secondary pathways Mr Tehan says, “by considering the needs of future tertiary students while they are still in school we will better prepare them to succeed and gain the qualifications that they will need to achieve their own ambitions.

On the Noonan review of the Australian Qualifications Framework Mr Tehan singles-out recognition of micro-credentials which, “will encourage more innovative and timely responses to student demand for courses, and employer demand for certain skills

And he reiterates his support for the creation of a new university college group in the Coaldrake review of HE provider categories.

Claire Field on where TAFE is hard to find


COAG’s Skills Senior Officials’ Network has released its VET Reform Roadmap for consultation.

It is good to see officials are consulting although there is no closing date for responses. I suggest compiling your thoughts sooner rather than later, and if micro-credentials are your passion there is a separate but related discussion paper seeking comment by 20 March 2020.

I will save my observations on the roadmap for a later date – except to note what’s missing – any statement on the role of TAFE.

The word “TAFE” appears only 5 times in the document – how TAFEs and private providers can deliver new teaching resources, share quality resources, and undertake applied research; as well as reminding us that ministers see a role for both TAFEs and private providers in the VET system.

This is a statement on the future of the VET sector authored by states, territories and the Commonwealth. It was a chance for states and territories to “anchor” TAFE within the broad reform framework emerging from Steven Joyce’s review. Instead the lack of focus on TAFE is stark.

By contrast, when discussing the role of TAFE in a contestable market, the Productivity Commission chair stated, “more clearly defining and understanding the (Community Service Obligation) responsibilities of the incumbent providers in the system is an important element in policy design”, i.e. the current arrangements do not do this well enough.

Terry Moran, the architect of contestability in VET (through User Choice funding and the Victorian Training Guarantee) went further in a recent speech saying outsourcing, including in VET, was “just not working”.

It is against this backdrop that I spoke with Dr Don Zoellner, University Fellow at Charles

Darwin University, on the podcast. Don posits two theories for thinking differently about the role of TAFE and the broader VET sector. His thinking moves us beyond the narrow concept of “the market” and I would strongly recommend the episode to both skills senior officials and anyone else with an interest in the VET sector.

Listen in your favourite podcast app or online.

 Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next? Insights into Australia’s tertiary education sector’ podcast

University teaching awards

 Blake McKimmie, Barbara Masser and Mark Horswill (Uni Queensland) are the university teachers of the year.  Other awards announced at the Universities Australia conference include.

 Teaching excellence: Kay Colthorpe (Uni Queensland). Demelza Ireland (UWA). Kate Ames (CQU). Denise Jackson (Edith Cowan U). Amy Maguire (Uni Newcastle). Richard John (Griffith U).

Partnerships:  * BCII Engagement team @ UTS – Bern Le Hunte, Amanda McGregor, Alex Baumber, Paul Brown, Betty O’Neill, Beth Wilson.  * Indigenous health education @ Uni Queensland – Leanne Coombe, Alison Nelson, Renee Brown, Jodie Copley, Anne Hill, Emma Crawford, Condy Canuto, Jon Willis, Lisa Fitzgerald, Murray Phillips. * Risk aware @ Flinders U, Uni Adelaide, UNE, UW, ACU – Amanda Dudley, Jade Sheen, Wendy Sutherland-Smith, Jane McGillivray, Reg Nixon, Rachel Roberts, Michael Proeve, Debra Dunstan, Carmela Pestell, Louise Alexander.

Student experiences: * James Cook U – Kate Sheppard, Rhian Morgan, Lisa Moody, Patrick Peacock, Kristi Giselsson, Carol Conway, Kimberley Anderson, Gabi Newman, Trina Jackson, Kerry Aitken. *  Uni Queensland – Rhea Jain, Ken Lai, Ashil Ranpara, Carlene Kirvan, John Walsh, Jacqueline Niblett, Ryan Webb, Linda McConnell, Jo Williams, Debbie Hathaway.


Google announces its Faculty Research Awards – which “give Google researchers the opportunity to partner with faculty who are doing impactful research.”

ANZ achievers are;

* algorithms and optimisation: Graeme Gange, Monash U, Peter Stuckey, Monash U.

* security: Marcel Böhme, Monash U

* software engineering and programme languages: Christoph Treude, Uni Adelaide, Kelly Blincoe, Uni Auckland. Sebastian Baltes, Uni Adelaide.