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Message from the Chair-August 2017

Michael Gill-Sustainable Skills Chair of the Board

One of the remarkable success stories in Australia’s recent economic history has been in tertiary education. Australian institutions have attracted very large numbers of foreign students and have developed a strong reputation, especially in our immediate region. Up to now, much of this has been the result of economic growth and rising middle class, notably in India and China. Most of this activity has been in and around Australian universities in Australia.

Sustainable Skills has developed a strong position in what may be a second wave of Australian education’s potential in our region and elsewhere. We have found that the Australian model of vocational education is both a natural fit and the preferred solution to a critical issue.

Substantial investment and opportunity has arisen in many communities in recent years as a result of improved governance or political reform. Where that has occurred it is common that governments find one substantial hurdle to the delivery of economic benefit. That hurdle is the lack of effective skills. Our work in many countries has been prompted by a realisation that vocational education and training is a critical component of economic development. In many cases, vocational education has been established but it is not aligned with today’s workplace. Or the courses are too expensive for people in low income communities. Or the standards are not effectively applied to ensure that students are correctly accredited. In some cases, there is no system, but a mixture of institutions aligned with different economic players in what often was a narrowly defined labour market.

Over many years, vocational education and training in Australia has refined characteristics that make it both effective and flexible in ways that are highly applicable in the situation of developing economies. Industry alignment is vitally important, providing the means to maximise the potential for job-ready students. Modular course design means that students may acquire skills incrementally, avoiding the often impractical requirement for years of full time study. Strong standards and accreditation management provide confidence and enhance the marketability of skills acquired. These are key attributes in our work today in a number of countries.

Some of our greatest opportunities are ahead. Indonesia and Myanmar are two neighbours in focus for us.

Indonesia, Australia’s nearest neighbour, has been on a path of gradual reform for almost 20 years. In recent years, steady economic progress has led to the ambitious program of President Joko Widodo for massive infrastructure investment. This program aims to deliver enormous expansion in power generation, large increments of transport infrastructure and a series of new facilities at key ports. Anyone familiar with Indonesia’s business conditions would be aware of the need for these improvements and of the value they will bring. But they will require millions of skilled people that today are not available in Indonesia.

Myanmar’s political reform came at a rapid pace from 2011, with first a relaxing of extremely tight controls by the military regime and then a popular election in November 2015 that returned an overwhelming majority to the democratic opposition, the National League for Democracy. However, the military-socialist regime in place from 1962 has left a large problem: Myanmar’s social infrastructure – its public service, legal system, education – is in poor condition, a brake on what could be quite rapid economic and social progress.

In our work we have witnessed in both Indonesia and Myanmar the gradual recognition of vocational education as a vital strategic factor and a high priority in public policy. In both cases, leading figures in government have indicated that the Australian system of vocational education is preferred.

Myanmar’s National Education Strategy Plan was released early this year after a number of years’ background research. The NESP gives high priority to vocational education, a new status that reflects both the urgent need to improve the employment prospects of younger people and the gap in skills available to meet the nation’s needs. As Myanmar implements its strategy for education, Sustainable Skills aims to play a number of roles in both supporting the execution of the plan and assisting with projects that increase the quality and supply of education and training places.

Indonesia’s focus on vocational education is at least partly driven by the demands of major projects that are in active planning. The imperative is very close to having deadlines. Our focus has been to offer support in policy development, consulting on specific sectoral projects and to work with potential local players in providing expertise to back new suppliers to the sector.

The flexibility of Sustainable Skills’ resources and well established background in the reality of providing strong outcomes has proven to be attractive to communities with real needs and opportunities. We are at an early stage of what presents at present as an extremely promising path.

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From Shanghai to Tangshan: The Vital Role of TVET

Last month, China hosted in Tangshan the “Skills on the move: global trends, local resonances” international conference attended by more than 500 participants from 70 countries. The event, co-organised by UNESCO, the PRC Government and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, analysed the current skills development scenario in the context of the SDG agenda, and highlighted global trends within TVET five years after the Third International Congress in Shanghai (2012) which resulted in the Shanghai Consensus document, a roadmap to enhance Technical and Vocational Education and Training and ensure a sustainable and inclusive development for each country.

Main outcome of the congress is a statement document updating the Shanghai Consensus by reviewing major trends and policy developments in TVET over the past five years.

The new document, “From Shanghai to Tangshan. Shanghai Consensus updated: working together to achieve the Education 2030 agenda”, focuses on four key areas:

  1. Anticipating and assessing skills needs by using labor market intelligence, partnerships and assessment techniques;
  2. Developing skills for all  to ensure inclusive, quality and relevant skills development opportunities;
  3. Making skills and qualifications more transparent and better recognized;
  4. Contributing to a better use of skills in the world of work and supporting entrepreneurship.

The document recognises the critical role  of international cooperation to achieve TVET-related targets included in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and advocates for the promotion of youth employment and entrepreneurship; equity and gender equality; and the transition to green economies and sustainable societies.


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Uganda project update

Last month Sustainable Skills has been officially awarded a consultancy contract sponsored by the World Bank to address skills imbalances and shortages in Uganda. Client of the contract is the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) and this is the first non Australian government contract in the history of Sustainable Skills/SkillsDMC.

The Government of Uganda received credit from the World Bank towards implementation of the Uganda Competitive Fund for employer-led short-term training which is part of the Uganda Skills Development Project (USDP) aimed to address prevailing skills imbalances and shortages in Uganda. An important element of the initiative is to facilitate collaboration between training providers and industry to promote demand driven skills development with special attention to innovative modes of training.

The grant component of USDP aims at:

  • supporting training activities that lead to improved productivity and competitiveness in the formal and informal sectors, hereby creating new income opportunities,
  • providing funding primarily for the improvement of the quality and relevance of existing skills systems,
  • prioritising innovative new approaches to skills development with special attention to micro and small enterprises.

The first stage of the project now officially commenced under the guidance of Peter Merckx as the leader of our TVET experts team. Originally from Belgium, Peter lives in Nairobi and has more than 30 years’ experience working as education expert and consultant, particularly in Kenya and Uganda. He was involved in long and short term assignment to strengthen teacher education and support systems in different African countries, and assisted Ministries of education in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana in building the capacity to develop frameworks for continuous professional development of teachers, trainers and education managers. Peter will be in Uganda next week to work with the Skills Development Facility and a representative from the World Bank.

The rest of the team comprises Lisa Giammarco, as the Senior Consultant, and Simon Nangabo and Mary Jo Kakinda as Associate Consultants. Between 31 July and 8 August, they travelled to Kampala to conduct the first of the site visits, start the activities, and work with the Skills Development Facility team on processes and documentation. The initial feedback has been really positive and the team is looking forward to getting into the routine of the project.


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