by CLAIRE FIELD
Profound change is underway in higher education, with new funding arrangements which separate teaching from research and send conflicting signals to students and institutions. Short courses were rapidly introduced and significant organisational restructuring is now underway in some institutions. Further change lies ahead with decisions on research funding arrangements still to be taken, and changes to higher education provider category standards and foreign interference laws before the parliament.
International education has proven remarkably resilient despite the border closures. While higher education commencements are down 25 per cent, enrolments are only down 4 per cent and some institutions have performed well in an online-only environment. The VET sector has surprised with growth in both enrolments and commencements, and while ELICOS providers are hardest hit, there have been few ELICOS or VET provider closures, as government financial support and the option of regulatory hibernation have worked as intended.
Next year is when international education providers will struggle if National Cabinet does not agree to carefully reopen the borders to students.
Fee-for-service VET activity was hit hard as employers stopped spending, but government funding flooded into the sector and there was much talk of national reform (albeit the $1bn JobTrainer scheme is less nationally consistent than expected). The year ends with a suite of reforms and long-term funding decisions still being negotiated as the basis for the next National Skills Agreement. One reform to keep an eye on in 2021 is an innovative pilot being run by the Digital Skills Organisation. It focuses on skills assessment and employment outcomes rather than nationally recognised training and two of the three organisations involved are not RTOs. Will this ‘tech training’ deliver what employers want and if so what might it mean for training packages and nationally recognised qualifications?
Claire Field is the host of the ‘What Now? What Next? Insights into Australia’s tertiary education sector’ podcast. In the latest episode she interviews Patrick Kidd OBE OAM, CEO of the Digital Skills Organisation.