Cynics suggest the government hoped to bury John Halsey’s review into remote, rural and regional education by releasing it on Friday afternoon, especially on the Friday when the COAG minco on education had met to talk about reviewing NAPLAN, school bullying and a report from Chief Scientist Alan Finkel on industry-school partnerships in STEM.
Surely not, after all, no less than four minsters (McCormack, deputy PM, Birmingham, education, McKenzie, rural health and regional comms and McVeigh, regional development) announced Professor Halsey’s report.
The Flinders emeritus professor also addressed the meeting, although perhaps he should have spoken more slowly and simply – ministers asked officials to advise on Halsey’s recommendations at their June meeting.
Most of the review is about on school education but two recommendations focus on post-compulsory, supporting RRR students in the transition from school to training and higher education and expanding dual VET/higher education programmes and two-year associate degrees.
While Professor Halsey acknowledges the work of universities, notably the Regional Universities Network, he focuses on the public training provider’s role in post-secondary education. “TAFE has to be put back into the regions, closer to people, places and the heartland of much of Australia’s productivity.” And while he does not mention Labor’s proposed training review he proposes what could well be a term of reference for it. “It is clear that the issues of adequate funding for TAFE, access to and the costs of programs for students, designing new flexible offerings and enhanced qualification scaffolding and recognition with universities must all be included in a ‘root and branch’ review.
This did not discourage the Regional Universities Network which was quick to “strongly support” Professor Halsey’s findings. “We have advocated for the need to continue to grow tertiary education options in the regions, consistent with the review recommendation for an expansion of the availability, affordability and accessibility of dual VET/university options and two-year associate degree programs for regional students,” RUN chair Greg Hill said Friday.
Last month Cathy McGowan (Ind-Indi) proposed a bill that would put universities at the centre of government policy for regional growth (CMM March 27). Back then Canberra observers suggested the bill will never be debated, that the government will promote the Halsey review, especially the bits the states will have to pay for, as a basis of policy promises for the next election. They are probably right.