Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Unis Already Together with TAFE

In "Unis should get together with TAFEs as a way of being more efficient says minister" (Robert Bolton, AFR, 25 February 2018), federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, is reported to have suggested universities share teachers and buildings with TAFEs. This is not as radical, or new, idea as it first sounds.

A search of the national register shows that nineteen universities, out of forty three, are also Registered Training Organizations (RTOs). These universities are able to deliver the same vocational training programs as TAFEs. Other universities are either dual registered as TAFEs, or have an arrangement with a TAFE, or a commercial RTO.

Universities also run short courses for industry. In Canberra I have helped teach such courses for government agencies. These courses are not vocationally registered (although I use vocational techniques teaching them).

The Minister is addressing the wrong area, by pointing out capital tied up in university buildings. There is little scope for more efficient use of university buildings. Most of the existing lecture theaters and small tutorial rooms at universities are rapidly becoming stranded assets, as teaching becomes blended and on-line. Conventional lecture theaters are not flexible enough for modern learning techniques and tutorial rooms are too small for large scale interactive workshops.

TAFEs will have not use for the obsolete teaching buildings at universities. ANU demolished its central lecture theater complex last year and is replacing this with flexible facilities. These facilities will be in demand for university teaching year-round.

Higher Education in Australia, both at universities and the vocational sector, is now conducted on-line more than in the classroom. The significant cost is in course design and trained staff, especially on-line course design and staff trained to teach on-line. It is here that savings could be made, particularly with the vocational sector lending their expertise in carefully scaffolded teaching to the universities, which have emphasized research skills for their staff.

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