Advancing Australia’s VET Sector – curated industry news #03 2020

One of the clearest and most concerning issues to emerge during the COVID-19 crisis is Australia’s less than ideal treatment of international students and the potential incredibly damaging impact this is going to have on both the vocational and higher education sectors.

By failing to act with any immediate urgency, our fourth largest export industry worth more than $37 billion to our annual economy and supporting 240,000 jobs is now under serious threat.

This week the Campus Morning Mail has published a series of recommended fast and clear actions that need to be taken to help rebuild Australia’s international education industry, focusing on student welfare. Current and prospective students are already actively looking at education opportunities in New Zealand, Canada and other ‘more friendly’ destinations that are perceived as being more concerned for student welfare.

New Zealand is currently considering opening its borders to international students before any other foreign nationals. “It is possible that we’ll be able to put a quarantine arrangements in place for international students coming into New Zealand that sees them quarantining for two weeks, that way we know that when they come into wider New Zealand society they are Covid free. And then it may well be possible that we can resume more international education in that environment.” said Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Obscure rules and stalled visas have been identified as major red-tape issues that need to be addressed immediately if Australia’s international education industry is to rebuild; home-stay options for student quarantine on arrival are being proposed with virtual counselling and medical support provided; and working with partner countries to ensure pre-board screenings and in-country medical checks are in line with Australian protocol will be essential for the industry’s future.

Claire Field of Claire Field & Associations remains optimistic however that international students will return to Australia, citing our success with containing the COVID-19 epidemic in comparison to the USA and UK, cracks emerging in support to international students emerging in the UK and Canada, and the impressive support being provided to international students in all Australian states and territories.

In mid-May the NSW Government announced funding for temporary crisis accommodation for stranded international students as part of a $20 million package aimed at protecting the vulnerable and maintaining the State’s track record as a leading global study destination. “International students are an integral part of our communities and our economy,” said minister for skills and tertiary education, Geoff Lee. A new 24/7 international student support service also offers free advice and information around the moratorium on rental evictions and medical, mental health, legal and emergency support and is available through the Covid-19 hotline.

The assistance was welcomed by Australian higher education stakeholders, but some have called for the federal government to do more to ensure a unified national approach to assisting students. “Every Australian state and territory has now heard the call to step up and support international students,” said Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, however there are now calls for the Federal government to introduce a “nationally consistent approach”.

Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled major changes to skills and vocational training in a speech about post-pandemic economic recovery, in which “overhauling the skills system will be a priority to stimulate job creation in a changing labour market”.

In his speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Mr Morrison made the case to ditch a “clunky and unresponsive” system in favour of more consistency across states and greater transparency around spending. “The current National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development is also fundamentally flawed and needs to change,” said the prime minister.

Total spending on vocational education and training has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, with $7.7 billion spent in 2017 according to the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research. Governments have also been urged to act to protect 180,000 trade apprentices from the economic slump, with Mitchell Institute policy fellow Peter Hurley seeing a collapse in new apprenticeships since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Total VET enrolments fell by 1.9 per cent to 1.1 million in 2018.

It’s worth noting that the Federal Government has not yet offered a funding boost and the timetable for change remains unclear while awaiting the results of a review into the skills agreement by the Productivity Commission that is not due until March 2021. The Labor party are calling for a reinvestment into the TAFE system to rebuild Australia’s vocational education.

In amongst all of this, the results of the ASQA rapid review were released and we have provided some links below to commentary on the findings. We have also provided several free template and checklist downloads for your RTO to help you navigate successfully through these constantly changing times – this includes the Rapid Transition to Online Training Checklist; Course Review and Plan; and a new COVID-19 Training & Assessment Amendment Template.