It is with deep regret that we acknowledge the passing of Emeritus Professor Rod McDonald: A doyen of the VET sector. Rod had a long and distinguished career and made many major contributions to VET over many years.

Here are some of the highlights.

His career

Rod established the Ithaca Group in 2001. This centre, based at his home in Brisbane, conducted reviews and evaluations, developed strategies and products and conducted research and analysis projects.  Before that he was a Special Advisor to the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), with a specific responsibility for initiating ‘blue sky’ thinking about vocational education and training.

Earlier, he became Australia’s first Professor of Adult Education, and occupied positions of Foundation Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Technology, Sydney. He was also Deputy Principal of Sydney College of Advanced Education; and then the Director of one of a small number of national Key Research Centres in vocational education funded through ANTA and later NCVER. He was a highly skilled facilitator and consultant.

Our personal history goes back earlier, though. He, like me, was part of university-based units concerned with the quality of institutional teaching and learning and both of us served on the national executive of HERDSA: The Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.

His legacy

His legacy is more important, however, given the number of pivotal reports and initiatives that have helped shape our sector today. They are also a testament to the wide range of his research interests and contributions. A quick look at his profile in VOCEDPlus tells the story eloquently, but even these do not tell the full story in that much of what he did is not in the public domain, but has been extremely influential nevertheless.

Notable in his corpus of work was:

  1. The first VET Research strategy, which is outlined here. Subsequent work was concerned with ‘the use and influence of research in vocational education and training
  2. The first ‘high level review of Training Packages’, along with Kaye Schofield in 2004. This produced not only a report, but also a range of other resources and working papers which you can access via VOCEDPlus. Of course, subsequently, there have been other reviews of Training Packages. He was involved in consultations conducted in 2009, which resulted in the report entitled VET Training Products for the 21st Century.
  3. Work on enhancing the capabilities of VET professionals with Mary Dickie and colleagues. This, of course, has been a topic of enduring interest and most recently, with the development of a VET workforce blueprint; it is worth looking back at this pivotal piece!
  4. Blue sky’ work on VET fresh thinking about learning and learners in collaboration with Jane Figgis.

This only just touches the surface of all he did in his long career, for example, other work the Ithaca Group has undertaken through Rod’s leadership has been associated with aspects of changes to the AQF, the strengths and failings of credit and pathway policies and advice about the direction of the National Career Education Strategy.

As his personal page on the Ithaca website notes:

Rod is renowned for his capacity to clearly analyse complex issues and to think strategically. In the words of one client, he has a unique capacity to ‘make complex things simple.’

So true, his insights will be deeply missed!