November 19, 2017

New models: partnerships and innovation

By Mary Faraone

We recently held a celebration of staff at the Institute who have been with us for 20 and 30 years. As part of the ceremony the staff provided a short bio which included their personal achievements and what they were most proud of at the Institute. I was impressed yet again by the dedication and commitment staff have to the mission of TAFE and our role in the community to support social inclusion and social cohesion. It was a positive and reaffirming celebration of our role as a public provider. However the event made me think about whether the community and our stakeholders see TAFE in the same way. Certainly there is considerable support for and acknowledgement of TAFE as the public provider in Victoria thanks to the Andrews’ government. However the lack of a clear policy at the national level in relation to technical, vocational and tertiary education leaves us at TAFE in the familiar position whereby the perception of TAFE is as a provider of technical and trade qualifications only, in particular apprenticeships. I acknowledge that apprenticeships are an important barometer of the health of the economy and that TAFE is the dominant provider of trade training in Australia, however it is not synonymous with TAFE and there is a great deal more breadth and depth of program delivery at TAFEs around the country.

What we see around the country are sophisticated technical, vocational and tertiary providers that offer a suite of programs, skill sets and qualifications to a broad range of learners, in a variety of delivery models. In addition TAFEs are undertaking genuine applied research in collaboration with industry and collaborating with industry in a range of projects and workplace skill development. The fact is the tertiary sector now and in the future is not the tertiary sector I first joined in 1990. We work in interesting and changing times and the changes we have seen in the vocational sector and the proposed changes to the higher education sector are significant reforms which have and will change the tertiary landscape of the future. The challenge for us all, especially in public education, is how to maintain the integrity of our services for our students, the community and industry in an increasingly competitive environment.

At a function a retiring university Vice Chancellor spoke about the drivers affecting the education sector, in particular technological disruption and the decreasing level of government funding to support education and training, which not only affects Australia but many countries in the world. No surprises here, however it is how we as providers respond that is important. One suggestion was that providers should play to their strengths and specialisations. I have thought about this and wonder whether TAFEs have played to their strengths and specialisations to date and whether they can continue to do so in the future.

From Holmesglen’s perspective the journey from a small trade college established in 1982 to a multi discipline tertiary provider has taken over a 35 years. The most significant change since 2003 has been the ability for TAFEs to offer undergraduate programs and post graduate programs. In offering higher education programs is Holmesglen playing to its strengths or has it, as some commentators have suggested not specifically about Holmesglen but TAFEs generally, displaying mission drift. It is an interesting question. Our mission is to provide access to education and training to a broad range of students, and as such does it matter that the education and training is across the secondary school, technical and vocational training and higher education sectors. The answer is no. However how does this argument stack up against the view that the vocational sector could become residual as its qualifications are being colonised by schools, universities and industry organisations and associations. There is real concern in the sector that training package diplomas and advanced diplomas will become redundant, except for those which are linked to licencing or registration and have specific employment prospects. I think we will see the development of more higher education diplomas which can be packaged with a pathway to a bachelor program for both domestic and international students. So back to the question of mission drift, the answer is a resounding no. The market has changed so significantly that the boundaries between the sectors is so blurred that TAFEs should be considered to be contemporary tertiary education providers offering access to education and training at the technical, vocational and tertiary education to a wide range of students.

What it means however is that what we thought of as TAFE has turned itself inside out - its roots are in technical and further education however its future is in a broad range of technical, vocational and tertiary provision. The future for us is in new models of partnership and innovation, such as the partnership we have with Healthscope and the Holmesglen Hospital on the Moorabbin Campus. The trick is to be ready for opportunities and develop a vision that respects and is loyal to the past but looks to the future. We need to be able to ensure the culture and tradition of TAFE is maintained. This culture and tradition is encapsulated by two students who spoke at our awards function. These 2 students could be at any TAFE in the country. One was a nursing graduate who completed her degree with distinctions. She was clever and articulate with all the hope and promise of youth at the start of her journey into the world of work and her chosen career of nursing. The other student was a man in his 60s who had completed a Certificate II in General Education for Adults. In accepting his award he spoke about his life as a young man in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime, his journey to Australia and his pride and passion in his studies at Holmesglen. I have worked in education for many years and the impact education has on people’s lives still excites and motivates me, and it is this intangible outcome that we have to continue to promote and incorporate into the new world of the future.

Mary Faraone is the Chief Executive of Holmesglen. She is also Chair of TAFE Directors Australia