Plus Charles Sturt’s advertising achiever and lights lowered for learning and teaching at Macquarie

Tas looks north

The University of Tasmania is broadening its horizons to celebrate its 125th birthday. Senate President Stephen Parry (Lib-Tas), (no less) and Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen will host a celebration at Parliament House (the one in Canberra) on November 9. CMM suspects team Tas will use the trip to suggest the government coughs up cash for the university’s ambitious expansion plans for a new Launceston campus (CMM September 28).

ANU Sept 15

Bad day to talk training reform

The other day CMM was wondering what training minister Luke Hartsuyker is up to (CMM October 13). It turns out he was working on a speech for the Community Colleges Australia Conference, delivered yesterday. But the minister picked a bad day to put his head above the political parapet, with an Opposition dominated Senate committee delivering a scathing report on for profit VET.

Most of Minister Hartsuyker’s speech was standard stuff, a report of the government’s many achievements in training, with three optimistic exceptions. One was the list of measures in place to deal with “a handful of dodgy providers (which) have caused so much damage to the VET industry in recent years.” “A handful”? As a percentage of for-profit providers the spivs ruining the industry’s reputation may be small, but that it is not how it will look to anybody who reads the regular media coverage of crook colleges exploiting people.

It is certainly not how it looks to the Senate Standing Committee on Employment and Education, which slammed private providers in its report into the industry, tabled yesterday. Here’s the report’s recommendation eight, calling for a “concerted and urgent blitz of all providers to ensure that they are consistently complying with the national standards, especially those relating to student recruitment. This blitz should be aimed at defending the interests of students, enforcing adherence to Australian Quality Framework volume of learning standards and removing non-compliant Registered Training Organisations as VET FEE-HELP providers.”

Mr Hartsuyker also assured his audience that $68m in extra funding means the Australian Skills Quality Authority “can implement a more modern, responsive regulatory approach that focuses on high risk providers.”

Good-o, except rorts that ASQA acts on after the event suggests the agency is inept, at best. As TAFE Directors’ Marin Riordan said in the Fairfax papers yesterday, “the authority has failed to identify clear risk profiling or quality indicators.” If you are looking for evidence of a national approach in regulating training ASQA isn’t it.

But the minister’s ultra-optimism focused on federarilising voced.

“A national approach would ensure the VET system is flexible and responsive enough to meet local and cross-border requirements that help people get the job they want, where they want it, and where it’s needed. A national system would lead to better accountability and increase efficiency and choice. It would also reduce duplication of programmes run by the Commonwealth and the states. We could also make better links between the VET system and higher education, welfare services, and employment.”

All true and this is a policy Simon softly-softly Birmingham was pushing before being elevated to deal with the overall portfolio’s pressing problems. But the Labor state’s are unlikely to surrender TAFE to the feds if it means public training having to compete in an even more open market at further expense to TAFE. And the federal government would lose fulsome face if it abandoned deregulated training.

So why are Mr Hartsuyker and Senator Birmingham bothering to suggest federalising training when the government is avoiding a blue on deregulating higher education fees? Perhaps because the ministers believe the former is good policy. Or perhaps because they believe a deal, of some sort, can be done with the states. With university reform stalled it would be good for the government to have at least one win in education to take to the election.

Rare restraint

Congratulations to Murdoch University for retweeting WA Premier Colin Barnett looking at rare plants and not making a joke about fossils.

ANU Sep 15 1

Names should not fade away

A reader suggests praise for developing the Higher Education Standards now before parliament needs to be spread around a bit more. In announcing the standards are now set to start Education Minister Simon Birmingham thanked the panel responsible, chaired by WSU Chancellor Peter Shergold (CMM October 14) – which is fair enough.

What is not is the absence of applause for Alan Robson and others. The intellectual engineering for the finished product took three years of reporting, writing and discussing, most of which was undertaken by a team established in 2012 led by former UWA VC Professor Robson and including Richard James (Uni Melb), Adrienne Nieuwenhuis (SA Dept Further Educ), David Siddle (ex UoQ) and Joanne Wright. In February then education minister Pyne replaced all of them except Professor Robson with the members of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Advisory Council, notably Professor Shergold and ACU VC Greg Craven, a regular independent advisor to the minister.

Committee members come and go but the memory of the original panel’s work is too important to fade away.

For-profit training loses big

Yesterday’s report of the Senate Committee on for-profit training is predictably scathing, a gift to Labor, the Greens and the public education unions which loathe the very idea of private VET providers.

The report finds that 45 per cent of registered training providers have breached standards and that demand driven student loan systems are “misused mercilessly by some players in the industry.”

But the bit that will bite is the suggestion that the spivs are crueling the reputation of the training sector overall;

“Firstly the reality of poor quality in VET provision in the case of a few providers and secondly the much greater problem of widespread perception of questionable practice is doing significant damage to the reputation of VET nationally. While perception and reality may be at different levels, increasingly they are one in the eyes of the public … The fallout from some private college behaviour has ricocheted around the training sector and caused much apprehension among students, parents and employers.”

This is beyond dispute and for all the government’s attempts to improve regulation of for-profit training (there is new legislation before parliament) it is hard to see how anything other than years, quite a few years, of scandal-free provision will repair the damage done by badly designed deregulation. And in the meantime the community will look kindly on TAFE. As Labor’s Kim Carr and Sharon Bird said last night there is, “abundant evidence that the vocational training sector must be underpinned by a strong, viable public provider.”

This report is the VET sector’s equivalent of the “$100k degree.”

Grin and bear it

Australian Council for Private Education and Training chief Rod Camm has condemned crook private providers for a year so his response to the Senate committee report on training was as predictable as it was unavoidable. “Many recommendations in the right direction,” he said last night. If you can’t beat ‘em agree with them.

Lionised LLewellyn

Honours are in order for Swinburne and Edith Cowan U which both have student teams in the finals of the International Advertising Federation’s marketing comms competition, Big Ideas. This involves students forming agency style teams and creating a strategy for a real client, this year Save the Children. The finalists present at a Sydney conference, Monday week.

But if applause is appropriate for those institutions Charles Sturt U should hold a triumph for its discipline leader of advertising courses, Anne Llewelleyn. Charles Sturt has two teams in the finals this year – same as in the past five years. And in the one before that there was a single CSU entry. If one of the CSU teams gets up it will make ten wins out of 13 entries. “Anne delivers year after a year” a CSU insider says.  CMM asked Ms Llewellyn what her miracle ingredient was last November but she wouldn’t say. However CSU’s long tradition of teaching all forms of communications with an emphasis on content over theory probably has something to do with it. That and the quality and practicality of Ms Llewellyn‘s teaching.

Light out for learning and teaching

Macquarie University looks like joining UWA in breaking up, or at least substantially reducing, its central learning and teaching resource. In the golden west staff fear being replaced by on-line services and in lighthouse land there is talk of decentralising teaching support and development to faculties. While a plan is not expected until next month job losses among the university’s learning and teaching time are already anticipated by staff.

But why? Some suggest Macquarie management’s motivation is a desire to decentralise, supported by the endless appetite of executive deans for more pelf and power on their patches. Others argue that it springs from wanting to reduce attrition at any price rather, than lift learning and that this will be easier with resources at faculty level.

Whatever the reason here’s hoping it does not end, or erode, the work of Macquarie’s energetic learning and teaching blog, Teche.