Interview on ABC Tas Rural Report with Rose Grant

2 February, 2016

Topics: University of Tasmania

GRANT: Back in 2002 when Senator Richard Colbeck was first elected to represent Tasmania he spoke about education as a key indicator of the wealth of the community here. Fourteen years on Senator Colbeck is Minister for International Education and he's still passionate about policy for teaching and learning.

COLBECK: It's one of the issues for North-Western Tasmania that has been an issue for a long time and I think it's going to take a cultural change in the way the community in this region looks at and engages with the education sector for that to change. It's a generational thing.

It is starting to occur and there are some policy settings that are being put in place that will help with that. The work that the Tasmanian Government's doing for example around taking high schools back out to year 12, which happens in all other states is certainly part of that.

I'm quite excited about the work that the University of Tasmania is doing in the context of offering pre-degree courses in the North and North-West and focussing in those areas. I think that provides a pathway through the education system.

My interest goes a little further than that to how they evolve that over time, because that offering will need to change as the demand changes with more people going further with their education. So there needs to be some sort of pathway in changing what that offering is over time and it might be a 25 year time line where that changes.

So I think that's where the demand for degree courses becomes the dominant thing rather than pre-degree courses. I think that's an important change to the way that its marketed, the way its sold and the way that the university engages with the community is going to be very important in that space.

I've really enjoyed the conversations that I've had with the Vice Chancellor Peter Rathjen about that.

ROSE: The university of course has been embroiled in what's been in some places a fairly divisive debate about tertiary deregulation. What's your view about that for a state like Tasmania?

COLBECK: Well there's no question that tertiary education is vital for this state. I've had some really good discussions with the Vice Chancellor about the engagement of the university with the community and its level of engagement. I think that view is quite well understood and the work that the university started to do will certainly improve that. They're a really important part of the community from a range of different perspectives.

ROSE: There was a view that if the changes went through the northern campuses would be cut adrift.

COLBECK: Well I didn't see it that way. I was a little concerned that they might be marketed or badged differently. I saw that as a real concern but I don't think that's the direction that the university is taking now.

If you look at other universities around Australia that offer those pre-degree courses, in fact right back into the TAFE system. Charles Darwin University being a great example, they offer vocational courses and they offer courses that might be offered by TAFE here in Tasmania.

I was talking to their Deputy Vice Chancellor at an event I was at in Darwin she was telling me about tradies who were going there to do their training. They weren't going to TAFE - they were going to university and they were proud that they were going to university.

I think that says a lot for how that might be engaged. The changes that UTAS are looking at offer, obviously, a challenge, particularly for other sectors here in Tasmania. But I don't necessarily see that as a problem - I see that as a positive.

There's a little bit of work to do in that space at the moment.

ROSE: You're saying in competition terms it's going to divide the pie up?

COLBECK: Well look I think it actually promotes and stimulates innovation in the way that the services are offered, in the way that education is offered. I think that's a good thing.

It doesn't necessarily need to be a threat. It can mean that another provider says okay, the world has changed and we've got to look at what we're doing and it needs to be high quality obviously. It stimulates potentially a change in the way that the service is offered.

If you look at the growth in private providers for example, it raises the question as to why they're coming into the market. Obviously it's because the way that the services are being offered through some of the traditional formats isn't suiting the market. So the markets finding ways to get what it wants in the ways that it needs.

Again, a high quality offering from whatever the provider might be is what's going to be successful. Now obviously we've had some issues in the vocational space over the last few years because of some changes in the policy settings and so getting all of those settings correct and then look at what the broader tool kit might be that works in that space.

That aligns with other sectors in the community too because you look at things like the working holiday visa and other seasonal worker programmes. So how might they apply across other different sectors as well, and how might they apply to tourism, what do they do in relationship development and assisting in development perhaps into developing nations?

So all of those things need to be matched up and that's the policy task.

ROSE: That's Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Richard Colbeck. He's Minister for International Education and Tourism and wants to see more of both of those here.


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