At the commencement of the political year and during a speech to the National Press Club earlier this month, the Prime Minster reaffirmed the government’s commitment to VET reform:
“Skills reform will be a priority for COAG discussions in March and beyond…Our $50 million commitment to TAFE Revitalisation will deliver infrastructure projects, refurbish facilities, and purchase specialist training equipment. That has now been authorised. The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is being reformed to improve its governance, accountability and engagement with the sector. And we’re making it easier for many VET students to access courses by increasing the size of loans available for around one-quarter of all eligible courses.”
Also earlier this month, the 2020 Vocational Education and Training Business Summit held by ITECA brought together stakeholders from across government, the business community and training sector to better understand the challenges facing providers.
Troy Williams, Chief Executive Officer at the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) noted that “the need for reform was self-evident in the message delivered by every speaker. What was significant was the companion message that reform is underway.”
The disruption of the VET sector by external events was a key focus of the summit, with the double impacts of the recent bushfire crisis and the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus currently being felt by the industry.
The COVID-19 outbreak is being seen as one of the biggest crisis ever to hit international education in Australia, with over 100,000 Chinese students ‘trapped’ in China by the outbreak and unable to commence the study year. An estimated 100,000 Chinese students remain stranded offshore, unable to start or resume their studies at Australian universities, TAFEs and colleges.
In another setback for Australia’s $40bn a year international education sector, the Department of Home Affairs has stopped issuing new student visas to Chinese students who have been accepted for study by Australian education institutions.
In response, the Australian government has set up the International Education Taskforce to help shape appropriate responses in order to protect the nation’s international reputation for high quality education in a safe environment.
“The bushfire crisis that hit the country in the latter parts of 2019 and early 2020 created a misconception overseas that many Australian tertiary education providers were closed for business, creating confusion among international students about their study options. The following outbreak of the Novel coronavirus has presented additional genuine challenges with travel restrictions on students coming to Australia from China.”
Meanwhile, the AFR has reported on a full blown ‘row’ within the vocational education and training sector, revealing that “Private training companies are at loggerheads with the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) saying there is a “massive trust deficit” in the sector and legislation meant to smooth matters out will only make relations in the $3 billion sector more tense.”
ITECA has highlighted that an amendment bill before Parliament would extend ASQA’s powers despite its members continuously reporting inconsistent rulings by course auditors.
“For some time, with the support of its members, ITECA has been arguing for a review of ASQA’s governance frameworks in order to ensure that the regulator for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector is more accountable and operates more transparently. Legislation introduced into the Australian Parliament on 13 February 2020 goes part of the way to achieving the change that ITECA members have sought.”
Key aspects of the legislation include a new management structure for ASQA and establishing an industry advisory council to provide expert advice to ASQA.
On a final note, I’ve included a feature article from The Conversation that is just so beautifully written by Vanessa Cavanagh, Associate Lecturer, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong as a response to the Australian bushfires and our need to reconnect to Country. This piece really resonated with me personally and is the first time that the First Nations’ concept of connection to country has truly hit home for me, with the idea that ‘the intricate network of kinship between humans and the non-human needs to be restored to help heal Country and protect it into the future” showing us a more positive way forward.
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