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September 29, 2016 at 03:45 pm

The draft 'New Models of Tertiary Education' report represents an important opportunity to rethink how the tertiary system delivers the skills and knowledge to drive the economy, says the Industry Training Federation.

In its earlier Issues paper, the Productivity Commission noted that 30 years of increasing participation and achievement in tertiary education has had little demonstrable impact on economic productivity. It also correctly identified that the future workforce will require tertiary education to support lifelong learning - since people will need to retrain and update skills and knowledge during their 50 years in the workforce.

The report identifies factors that tend to focus the system on providers rather than students, and impede innovation. However, like the system itself, the report is heavily oriented towards the delivery of institutionalised education to young people.  

"There is much we can do to improve education delivery, but productivity happens when skills are deployed, not when they are developed." says ITF Chief Executive Josh Williams. "The ITF will submit that the Commission needs to further consider how the tertiary system makes effective links with industry, and delivers skills to people throughout their working lives."

A number of proposals, including the Student Education Account, would put a lot of decision-making responsibility in the hands of very young adults before they have engaged in the workforce.  "The traditional approach of 'school-then-course-then-job' needs to be tested." Mr Williams says. "We support a student-centred system, but are not convinced that giving purchasing power to 16 year-olds will most reliably line up with industry skill needs, or promote high quality provision."

The innovation the ITF seeks is greater systematic collaboration between the world of education and the world of work. To that end, it is vital that employers are engaged in both defining and delivering the skills that will ensure individual and collective success.

The ITF is pleased to see principled arguments and specific proposals for work-based learning that could unlock higher level industry training and apprenticeships, and rectify existing funding inequities between Industry Training Organisations and Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics.  

"The draft report is wide-ranging, brave in places, and includes several interesting proposals." Mr Williams says. "This Inquiry is an important chance for the government and all parts of the tertiary system to engage in a joined up conversation about how our system is coherent, competitive, and innovative."