We are in unprecedented times for tertiary education as a result of COVID-19.

Things are moving very quickly, with almost daily changes in circumstance affecting our way of life in Australia and our education and training sectors as well.

Some thoughts on the situation

COVID-19 started as a major issue for international education but now, given moves to socially isolate and minimise exposure, it will deeply affect both VET’s and Community Education’s domestic operations as society and providers bunker down. Who knows for how long? The feast, if we can call it that, is very moveable, and the situation exceptionally fluid. The one thing that is certain is that there is no certainty. For the moment VET’s public providers, at least, are still open.

It’s really affecting international education

International border restrictions and closures have affected the sector’s exposure to the international student market. The upside is that Victorian VET is less exposed than higher education, but the exposure is still significant. Data show that, in 2019, there were nearly 310,000 international students in Victoria. Of these, just over half were in higher education, but around 28% were in VET. Major source countries for VET were, in order, India (25%), China (11%), Malaysia (8%), Nepal (6%), and the Philippines and Columbia (at around 5% each), with smaller numbers from a wide range of other countries. Many of those studying in 2019, and new students, have not been able to come to begin or renew their studies. Online delivery will help, but only so much can be done to provide the practical experiences that characterise much of VET’s delivery.

There are other challenges too. Part-time work for those students that are already here may well dry up significantly. It already has in hospitality. Bodies and businesses that service the international market such as education agents and homestay and other accommodation providers will also face challenging times. Hopefully they, and many of the other businesses in and around the international education market, will still be afloat when we emerge at the other end of this crisis.

And circumstances will challenge the sector to find alternative approaches to delivery

Moves to isolate socially will affect modes of delivery and challenge the sector’s capacity to deliver programs through more flexible means, including online. Indeed, the recent discussion paper released by the Macklin Review of Victorian VET has raised issues about the sector’s capacity in Victoria to deliver using such approaches. As they note:

“In 2017, online provision of VET in Victoria constituted only 2% of government-funded training units, compared to 33% in NSW (and 13% across Australia).”

Historically, NSW has had a large state-wide public  provision in that space, and other states such as Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have developed this capacity too given the ‘tyranny of distance’ issues they face in delivering VET across their respective states.

There are two issues here in terms of moving to greater flexible delivery approaches, including online. The first is regulatory, and the extent to which ASQA will accept a much greater proportion though online delivery. (We recently highlighted an NCVER report in articles that you can access here and here.)

The second is moving rapidly to develop more flexible approaches to VET delivery in Victoria, and this is something that will require co-operation not competition. One thing that would help is the development of resources on common, or compatible, managed learning systems so that the load of resource development can be shared across providers. Are we up for that?

Information sources

Finally, where can you get information about COVID 19 that is up to date? Good starting points are the Commonwealth Departments of Health and  Education, Skills and Employment.

Specific advice about education and training can be found here and on ASQA’s website. ASQA’s site also contains links to other information sources.

For those in Victoria, you can look to at information from the Department of Health and Human Services and Education and Training. This latter includes information relevant to international students.