Simon Birmingham shuts the gate to stop VET rorters swapping sectors, with legislation to protect higher education students


Peak TAFE body calls for $100m fund to assist displaced voced students: “restoring confidence in VET is the first order priority”


New research conduct code by year end (but don’t look for a definition of misconduct)


Who knows what budget cuts mean for university research? Not the education department.


How much time for teaching, how much for research and how to decide: union and management split at Sydney and Monash


App of the day

“The new My La Trobe app is the ultimate in organisation for La Trobians,” the university announces. But what about  La Trobiettes?

Keeping students safe from spivs

Simon Birmingham is shutting, bolting, and electrifying the fences to stop VET rorters getting their snouts into the higher education trough.

Last week the tertiary education regulator warned voced providers are applying to teach in higher education (CMM May 25). While there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy of any of the applicants, the Education and Training Minister is intent on ensuring there can not be a repeat of the VET FEE HELP catastrophe in higher ed, with new legislation proposed to parliament. “We want to ensure that dodgy vocational education providers cannot transition their operations into the higher education and international education sectors,” he says.

“Collectively, these measures are intended to target and mitigate unscrupulous behaviour by higher and international education providers while avoiding interference with the operations of legitimate and reputable providers operating in the sector. This Bill is intended to mitigate similar provider compliance and conduct issues that occurred in the VET sector,” the government’s explanatory memorandum states.

The bill was drafted with engagement from the International Education Association of Australia, Universities Australia and the Council of Private Higher Education and is designed to toughen up the terms of existing provider assessment and enforcement powers covering the higher education system and international education market. “The bill enables regulators, “to intervene as necessary to prevent malicious practices across the higher and international education sectors,” the government’s supporting memorandum states.

The bill specifically increases the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency’s powers to consider an applicant’s previous education activities, the characters of its officers and to protect the credibility of Australian qualifications.

Eight points to real research cost

The ever-understated Group of Eight was quick to point out that its members accounted for nearly two-thirds of funds allocated in yesterday’s applied research Linkage Grants. But the Eight also pointed out that for every dollar from the feds, universities need to find anything up to 100 per cent in matching money to support indirect research costs and that cuts will make this harder. “We do not want to see a time when critical industry and fundamental research projects are unaffordable for our best researchers, CEO Vicki Thomson said.

Ewen to PVC I

Shaun Ewen is appointed PVC (Indigenous) at the University of Melbourne. Professor Ewen will also continue as director of the university’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.

VET crisis requires $100m now

Ahead of a training summit today TAFE leader Craig Roberston is calling on state and national skills ministers to allocate $100m in the first year of the new Skilling Australia Fund. The money is needed to “coordinate the placement of VET FEE-HELP displaced students and undertake assessment, course counselling and top-up training to help students complete.”

“Restoring confidence in VET is the first order priority. This requires a genuine quality training experience to students who have been duped into short, low quality, training courses. Regardless of the circumstances leading to this position we all have an obligation to support these students who have engaged in training to improve their career yet find the sector has let them down,” the CEO of TAFE Directors Australia says.

Mr Robertson advises ministers that TAFE systems have stepped up to assist students caught by the closure of Careers Australia. TAFE Queensland has established a call centre and TDA will hold student meetings in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. TDA also manages a tuition assistance scheme so students at private providers can access Commonwealth loans.

“The risks taken on by TDA in operating a TAS for non-TAFE providers is mitigated by the underpinning regulatory and funding administration regimes which are expected to protect the interests of students and meet basic financial accountability practices. The scale of mismanagement of Careers Australia, which is beginning to emerge as administrators examine its operation, has tested these assumptions,” Mr Robertson warns.

“The time for response from the VET sector is urgent, and its need is critical. The data from the VET FEE-HELP scheme and media tells us that many Australian citizens from disadvantaged background have engaged in VET FEE-HELP training, and with a genuine desire to improve their skills to access work. We suspect these students have lost all confidence in pursuing work let alone re‑engaging in training,” he adds.

Innovation incubators

Lost among the Linkage Grant announcements yesterday was news of four innovation incubators from Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos, with money going to two universities.

Flinders U has $196 000 for manufacturing startups in Adelaide. The University of Newcastle gets $474 000 to support 16 start-ups and assist aspiring entrepreneurs.

Defence against the undefined

The Australian Research Council’s new research integrity code will be out by year’s end, officials told Labor research spokesman Kim Carr in Senate Estimates yesterday.

In an extended exchange, Senator Carr questioned the ARC on the absence of a definition of research misconduct in the proposed code, despite there being such in comparable countries. The response from officials was in-line with the views of the committee writing the code;

“The decision to not include a definition of research misconduct was based on the fact that there is no internationally agreed definition of research misconduct, and that the definition in the current code has been problematic in its application to an investigation outcome and findings, particularly in relation to enterprise agreements and current approaches to the management of behaviours that may require corrective action,” they advised earlier this year (CMM March 6) (Read “Straight bat, the straightest,” below).

CRC appointment

Macquarie U’s research director Louise Fleck has joined the CRC Association Board.

Choice of numbers

The Parliamentary Budget Office compiles government’s estimates of budget decision costs  to demonstrate their impact on higher education compared to December’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook. The results appear to be not much. Funding is expected to increase by $1bn, to $10bn in the four years to 2020-21. This is due to the government dropping the 2014 cuts, offset by the 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend in 2018, 2019 and increased contributions from publicly funded students. However, grants will drop by $100m between 2015-2016 and 2019-20, relative to the recent MYEFO due to “parameter and other variations.” The government will point to the first estimate, opponents to the second.

 NCVER wants to help

Vocational education is big, complex and very different to university, so prospective students need to research VET to work out what is best for them, Georgina Windley writes on the estimable National Centre for Vocational Educational Research’s website.

“Students who have a clear understanding of the job they are interested in and the training that is required may well be better placed to finish their qualification and get more out of it,” she writes in what is badged an “opinion piece”.

She points to resources that will be familiar to as many as no aspiring apprentices and trainees, adding; “NCVER is well-placed to provide information on the nature and benefits of VET, to ensure students have the best information to inform their choices when it comes to making decisions about education and training.”

Good-oh, but as far as CMM knows the estimable agency isn’t in the business of consumer information campaigns. But perhaps it wants to be. Back in February the NCVER polled users and included a question about the possibility of the agency managing data “for VET training products and consumer information (CMM February 6).

Straight bat, the straightest

So how much will universities reduce funding for research allocated from their Commonwealth Support Grant scheme income, due to the government’s budget cuts, Kim Carr asked Department and Education Training officials in Senate Estimates yesterday. Don’t know, officials replied. So the senator bowled up the question again, and again. And the answer remained the same, that officials did not know because universities would make their own decisions. They play a straight bat in DET.

Workload mix on the agenda at Monash and UniSydney

The established formula is finished says the union, no it’s not management replies

With enterprise bargaining underway at the University of Sydney the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union claims management intends to end the existing research (40 per cent)-teaching (40 per cent)-service (20 per cent) balance for all academics. “As a result, every academic’s capacity to balance teaching with research will be at the mercy of negotiations with supervisors.” The union claims this is part of a plan to create teaching only roles “without limitation.”  And it warns a faculty restructure will mean forced redundancies.

In reply the university tells CMM it has, no intention of ending 40:40:20 employment.  “We are seeking to ensure that academics who want a career with an education focus are afforded the same opportunities as their colleagues who opt for a research or education and research focus. The university views forced redundancies as an absolute last resort, as enshrined in the current Agreement and we hope in the next one.”

43 models and none work right, Monash NTEU complains

There is a blue over academic workload at Monash University – even before enterprise bargaining begins.

The campus branch of the NTEU says there is a dispute with management over updated academic workload models, which is likely to end up in the Fair Work Commission.

According to the union, the university has 43 workload models but none are compliant with the existing enterprise agreement, which specifies what constitutes “teaching” and “other activities” (mainly administration) with time remaining available for research. The union claims that while workload models are supposed to be built in a collegial process, the university prefers, “a centralist interpretation of the term and wants the final decision to remain with management.”

“With increased emphasis on meeting research metrics, it is vital that such academic staff have a proper unallocated time in which to undertake their research and scholarly activities,” the NTEU warns.

However, the university is not having any of it; “it is disappointing to see this suggested because in the university’s view discussions have been continuing with a great deal of goodwill demonstrated by both sides, in trying to find a resolution. To the university’s knowledge the matter has not been referred to the Fair Work Commission, if it is, the university will rigorously defend its position,” a representative tells CMM.

No harm in trying

The trap of the week award goes to the NTEU at Monash, which wants management to agree to have an independent inquiry into workplace bullying written into the new enterprise agreement.