Highlights and controversy from the ACPET 2012 National Conference

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The Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) held their National Conference in Sydney on 30-31 August 2012 with some of the highlights captured in these tweets:

327 new RTO applications in the last financial year to ASQA with 4900 current RTOs, what number is ideal?

Senator Lee Rhiannon takes questions from a room full of private and enterprise RTOs with a platform that publicly funded VET = TAFE

 @ACPET_national Congrats to winners of the ACPET Awards for Excellence – a great night & great year ahead for best private providers http://ow.ly/1OtYfl 

As a seasoned conference presenter and attendee I was really impressed with this year’s line-up.  Day 1 included presentations from Michael Pascoe, Phillip Bullock, Chair of the new Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency on the National Workforce Development Strategy and Dave Remer on social media – his hot tip was to upgrade to LinkedIn Premium (I’ve had this level of service for a while now and it does make a big difference) and to view social media as the ultimate CRM.

Interesting models and case studies were presented by Rod Cooke, CEO, Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council and Bruce Callaghan, Managing Director, BCA National Training Group who struck me as a real gentleman.

George Megalogenis, Political Commentator, was great to listen to, with @sussanley tweeting @ACPET @GMegalogenis good point about politicians thinking like journalists and vice versa – ensuing defensive debate not good.

The welcome reception at the Italian Village, The Rocks was an excellent opportunity to catch up with friends and meet lots of new people – ACPET is always great for networking.

ACPET National Conference
Did I meet you at the ACPET National Conference?

Day 2 started with an address by Senator, the Hon Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research identifying areas for further VET reform such as industry engagement, skills development across the AQF including more degree qualified people, apprenticeship system change to suit modern jobs and all with an overarching theme of ramping up VET reform (and perhaps we may think or feel things are changing quickly now because we haven’t actually experienced true reform, more tweaking around the edges of the system to date?).  Now for the controversy…

By far and away the presentation with the most powerful emotional reaction from the audience and controversy was that by Senator Lee Rhiannon.  I emailed Lee’s office to explain that I attended the ACPET National Conference and that I regularly write independent blogs on Vocational Education and Training as well as Workforce Development and Planning.  I asked if it was possible to make reference to her speech and would she mind sharing a copy which she did.  Extracts have been taken from the full speech for the purposes of this blog and thank you Lee for sharing.

The Greens’ vision for Australia’s Higher Education and Training, described as being best for our industry, included the following comments from Senator Lee Rhiannon,

… I don’t think private providers are wolves but I think we all need to acknowledge that some companies became highly motivated to milk the VET system for every bit of profit when the Victorian system changed. The result high quality VET is lost, and private providers along with governments are blamed.

Because this is contentious I would like to put on the record the Greens do recognise that there is role for private providers in the VET system, where TAFE is unable to provide certain courses. Private providers sometimes can be more responsive to local markets and can adapt to needs more quickly than TAFEs.

The VET sector is the worst funded education sector in Australia and has sustained reductions in government investment for almost 15 years. 

The Greens advocate that TAFE funding in real terms, that is, recurrent per student TAFE funding, should be restored to former levels. Funding at the 1997 levels would go a long way to redressing the problems. 

But the current funding circumstances are far from delivering the investment needed, and TAFEs are being undermined.  That is why the Greens believe TAFEs should be the priority of any public funding, to get the maximum long term value from the public investment.  This does not rule out the participation of private providers in the VET system, but it ensures the viability of TAFE institutions, the quality of VET training, and would see that strategic national skills targets can be met into the future.

The Greens have urged the Gillard government to ensure that the failures in the Victorian experience of privatising vocational education and training are not repeated in other states.

The federal government should not wash their hands of the problem, but rather learn the lessons from Victoria and undertake a rigorous assessment of the flaws of contestability, rather than continue blindly with ineffective reform. 

TAFE is losing its market share as more nimble private providers compete for the low cost courses that do not financially constrain them, reducing the quality of courses to compete and make a profit.  Meanwhile TAFE loses its ability to cross-subsidise their delivery of the more expensive Certificate IV and Diploma courses.

It is in the public interest for TAFE to remain affordable and be a socially and culturally appropriate institution for its students.  TAFE services rural and regional areas where there are no other opportunities, no regular public transport, disappearing services and opportunities.  Those regional colleges can’t provide this important public service sustainably, can’t continue to deliver the higher end, higher cost courses without the cross-subsidisation benefits of offering the lower cost courses.

These days we often hear the Prime Minister, industry leaders, educationalists speak about the need for Australia to continue to be a skilled and innovative nation. Greens certainly agree with that. To achieve this outcome we will work to ensure that TAFE is well resourced and is the leader in VET in Australia.

Then a change of tact – I presented Unlocking the power of HD video through collaboration and development together with Joy de Leo from ACPET highlighting opportunities available to providers through the NBN.  Here’s the video of our trip to first release site Willunga to test the NBN with project participants.  Thank you for making a contribution to the ACPET Scholarship Scheme on my behalf as recognition of my participation as a presenter.

The regulator plus service provider panel with Chris Robinson, Chief Commissioner, ASQA, Ian Hawke, Commissioner, TEQSA and Vipan Mahajan from the Tuition Protection Service  talked about refined ASQA strategy of monitoring audits of high risk areas, strategic reviews/audits, policy on regulation, the National Skills Standards Council Review of standards for the regulation of VET, streamlined dual sector regulation with TEQSA and better ELICOS arrangements.

Tania Major from Generation One talked passionately about the Australian Employment Covenant and a VTEC model which to me resembled a skills ecosystem with a job role focus.

The conference dinner and ACPET Awards for Excellence hosted by James O’Loghlin aka David Koch, plus an after party topped off a fantastic couple of days.

Stay in touch with the wave of reform by joining AWPA’s LinkedIn group, the Australian VET Leaders on LinkedIn, subscribe to the WPAA and Workforce BluePrint blogs, follow @ACPET, @AWP_Agency, @WorkforcePlan, @waperry, @leerhiannon on Twitter.

ACPET Conference 2013 and the winner is… ADELAIDE – will I see you there?

P.S. did you pop in to see the exhibition table for Workforce BluePrint, National Crime Check (who provide a discount for national crime checks for ACPET members) and The Klevar Group?

Written by Wendy Perry, VET Strategist and Managing Director, Wendy Perry and Associates Pty Ltd

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