by WENDY PERRY

Questions for a uni merger

Many times before a university merger has been muted in South Australia.  And the top three questions that come up in conversation are:

* Who will be vice chancellor?  Perhaps a lack of agreement on this topic and ego may have contributed to the derailing of earlier attempts.

* what name will be the ultimate brand?  If the consideration of your customers, students and alumni on this topic is not the top priority, your priorities may need to shift.

* who will be on the board?  There can be a power play for influence and leadership, which may distract form a student, employer/industry focus.

All these questions are fairly self-focussed and then there is a potentially political element.

New SA premier Peter Malinauskas put the university merger into the recent South Australian state government election mix even though Higher Education is funded by the Australian Government and regulated TEQSA.  And you must ask yourself why?

Well first, understand what is going on at this time which means that you must acknowledge the education sector as a market.  Competition for domestic students, especially for post-grad enrolments is hot, and international students are a long-term investment.  So, where are the new opportunities?

Like in just about any other free market when you loose focus on your customers, your organisation suffers for it.  That is why any mergers need to focus on students and staff, industry, and employers in all discussions on if and how it happens.

Another question that needs consideration is, do we need one large university in SA or smaller more agile ones that are more likely to adapt to changing markets?  One emerging change is micro-credentials which have the potential to smash the education market (like massively), bringing in non-accredited and accredited providers from around the world.  This is at all levels, from primary school, high schools, Adult Community Education, Vocational Education and Training), to Higher Education and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Because non-accredited training is giant in this space, you must be close to business and industry needs to get traction.  And there are many other gaps to be addressed with creative, innovative and practical solutions where you could be testing the market, before developing new qualifications, if you are open to it.  Non-fungible tokens and blockchains could feature in the mix, applied to microcredentials, qualifications and skills recognition.

If you are coming from a savings and cost cutting perspective  you might think that a merger is the right path.  But this could be short-sighted and not customer focussed at all.

Imagine you are thinking about a post-grad qual, or microcredential (and if you are a provider without much on offer here then you are absolutely missing the boat), so ask yourself what does the student want on their parchment?  Probably an organisation with a history, a good reputation and track record with world rankings.  But when you have a new name and brand, this could go back to zero and what might your alumni, current and future students think of that?

Who is putting the customer and client, business and industry, and students first?

Dual sector could deliver

There could be an opportunity for a TAFESA and uni merger, to become a dual sector provider like there is in Victoria et al … so you ask who might be suit that partnership?

Probably Flinders University and TAFESA, with co-locations at Tonsley and alignment on some regional campuses.  Flinders University seems to have more qualifications that are practical, with a competency-based approach, so culturally it could fit and there are obvious career/qualification pathways.

I understand that the University of South Australia may not want to be seen as a technical institute (related to their background and history), and The University of Adelaide’s premium brand and culture probably doesn’t match with VET and TAFESA positioning in the market.

You have got to divest physical sites that don’t serve you well, as sometimes empty campuses can be like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, where no-one goes in, and no-one seems to go out.

Last week the SA Premier put a spotlight on TAFESA via social media, posting. “… we’re re-introducing training courses in aged care as well as disability care, child protection and childcare at metropolitan campuses.”

Now wouldn’t you think that the care sector would be a priority for TAFESA seeing as there is so much demand for people with these skills?  It was a surprise that these courses had dropped off, but you’d need to investigate why they weren’t continued in the first place.  Often there are issues with capacity and capability of trainers and assessors, and there are some private providers who are in this space that are very connected with industry partners, achieving great student outcomes.

Gaining credibility, respect and trust from employers and industry will need to be a priority for TAFESA, as there are examples of where face to face and online learning doesn’t meet business needs.  In a very practical away, TAFESA leaders and reps seem to be missing in action at business and industry events.  The recommendations from other employers to engage TAFESA are silent unless there aren’t many other choices, say for apprenticeships and traineeships, or funded places.  There isn’t evidence of high-profile examples or case studies of TAFESA working with clients (employers/industry sectors) and on programmes where the training is full fee for service.

Looking at the TAFESA website there are some immediate suggestions of:

* having an email address that people can get in touch with you and not just a phone number

* under course types adding micro-credentials (are they under on-line or short courses?)

* changing the “We” and “Our” language to be more audience/customer focussed

* on the Industry page don’t just have the Contact under each person where the link then goes to the generic form… people do business with people and LinkedIn profiles should be here too.  CEO and leaders plus key staff should be active on LinkedIn.

* consider making your sub menus alphabetical order as there is a lot of dense content to navigate

* support the CEO, board members, leaders, and lecturers to get out and about to business, employer, and startup events – a lot of that empty space across TAFESA sites could be utilised by new businesses and scaleups including access to equipment, facilities and labs, * conferences, coworking and events.

* suggest you make your business, employer, and industry engagement strategy, including regional and rural, a priority if you want to address skills mismatch and get back to being innovative as that is what the website states is the “tradition at TAFESA”.

Wendy Perry, is MD @WorkforceBluePrint, wendy@wendyperry.com.au


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