There is a lot of re-imaging and visioning going on at present. Earlier we reported on the one prepared by Professor Stephen Parker of KPMG.

This time we take a look at what the Business Council of Australia is proposing to future proof the post-secondary education and skills system.

The problems

Jennifer Westcott, the Chief Executive of the BCA, is not backward in highlighting the problems she sees. First, it is the quality of information learners have to make good career and study decisions. Not a new problem, we know. Neither is funding, with the balance tipped against VET in her view. VET, she believes, is seen as a second-class citizen, and the funding differences reflect that. Next, she points out that:

 “…occupational structures are too rigid and qualifications take too long for the changing nature of work. In this changing world, people are going to have to dip in and out of learning and regularly update their skills, not drop out of the workforce to obtain a full qualification. This will require us to move beyond the rhetoric of supporting lifelong learning, and make actual policy changes that will create a culture of lifelong learning.”

Finally, she sees confused governance between the Commonwealth Government and the

states with blurred accountabilities. As the BCA sees it, the VET sector has been neglected on both a funding and policy front by all levels of government.

The BCA’s proposed solutions

First, they propose building a single platform or tool so that potential learners where they can start by asking themselves some key questions. These might include:  What do I like?  What am I good at? It would also help them explore what jobs are available, what they might earn, what courses are available and how much they will cost them.

The BCA has also proposed using a ‘lifelong skills account’ as an entitlement model which is learner centred and would operate across both higher education and VET. It would draw both on available government subsidies as well as learner contributions through income contingent loans. They see this as “putting the learner in charge”.

Next, they believe that there has to be a stronger commitment to lifelong learning. To them, this means preserving a qualifications-based system, especially “for people entering the

labour market and people moving into new industries”. However, they are also proposing an opportunity for graduates to create self-constructed qualifications or micro-credentials. These would be able to access funding if they were seen to be in areas of skill need. Employers would be expected to play their part too by providing time off for these studies.

Finally, the BCA looks at the issue of governance. They consider three aspects: splits in funding responsibilities, facilitating industry leadership – particularly in the VET sector – and developing a more cooperative model. In terms of the funding approach they see it as important to minimise cost shifting and maintain funding levels. They propose that the states and territories take responsibility for pre-accredited and foundation studies, certificates I – IV and any base funding required to ensure the sustainability of public providers. As they see it, the Commonwealth should have responsibility for diplomas, advanced diplomas and bachelor degrees, income contingent loans (ICLs) and both research training and research more broadly, “noting this [research] funding sits outside the post-secondary education and skills system.” It’s worth noting that Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute has also published a paper examining how tertiary funding could be reformed. This is worth a read too if you’re interested.

The Business Council suggests a 5- to 10-year journey of reform is needed. This begins in a first phase with the Council of Australian Governments agreeing on the creation of a post-secondary education and skills system, its design elements, preferred approach to governance and intended outcomes. Governments also need to agree on a timeline for transition and implementation. This phase is followed by intergovernmental negotiations, establishment and research, provider entry and implementation.

You might also be interested in the NOUS Group’s summary of the submissions to the BCA, so take a look here.