Here is a copy of our interview with Troy Williams, Chief Executive Officer at the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA).
Troy, in a nutshell, what has been your experience of working in the training and education industry?
It’s diverse. From the perspective of a provider, in the late 1990s I established a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) for an industry association and a decade ago my focus was on running a large one with a companion Group Training Organisation (GTO). In more recent times it’s been working with industry associations and reviewing the architecture of the sector, ensuring that both the vocational education and training (VET) sector plus the higher education sector provides the skills and education required to support a growing economy – and the cuts to the amount of red-tape required to allow quality providers to deliver that.
What is the purpose of ITECA and how can training organisations benefit?
ITECA is a member-driven organisation representing independent providers in the VET and higher education sectors. With the support of our members we lobby government for the reforms that will allow providers to operate sustainably whilst ensuring that students can have confidence in the sector. We provide the market intelligence that allows businesses to make informed decisions and we keep the sector updated with changes to the commercial and regulatory environment. Perhaps the greatest benefit of ITECA membership is the opportunity to afford professionals within the sector to be part of a growing community of likeminded individuals who are committed to the success of the independent tertiary education sector.
Can you please let us know how ITECA works with training organisations?
ITECA provides leadership, strategy, advocacy and support. Our members set our agenda, fund our activities and directly benefit from the results. It’s in this context that there is a great opportunity for members to get involved at a national and state level to identify the projects and policy priorities that we work on. The ability of ITECA to achieve lasting policy reform, and to deliver the projects that are important to our members, rests with the work of a great many individuals volunteering their time to provide the team within ITECA with advice and guidance.
What are your views on having VET and Higher Education as separate regulatory bodies in Australia?
The reasons that that ASQA and TEQSA are separate is entirely understandable from a policy perspective; however, for independent providers operating in both the VET and higher education sectors it’s a challenge. If we look at the regulatory before ASQA and TEQSA objectively, it’s largely the same – providing a framework that permits students to obtain education, training and skills whilst allowing quality providers to excel. In that context a single regulator makes sense. For dual sector providers it would cut red tape and that’s a positive. From a policy perspective, the issue becomes complex as there are differences between the VET sector, independent higher education providers and public universities in addition to the framework in which the qualifications that they deliver are approved. In a practical sense, there is the need to progress reform through the Council of Australian Government (COAG) processes that would require aligning the Australian government, six states, two territories and the university sector itself. A single regulator is imminently sensible, achieving it is a complex endeavour but one that merits consideration.
How is your current role different from your previous roles?
The challenge at ITECA is unique, and one that’s pretty rewarding. My focus is firmly on working with our members to drive a conversation about the important role of independent providers in ensuring that the nation has the skills needed to support a growing economy. Outside the VET sector, I don’t believe there is an understanding about the substantial role played by independent providers. Far too many think VET is TAFE and TAFE is VET. That’s not the case, it’s the independent sector that provides around two-thirds of all VET qualifications. As a general rule, ITECA members do this with higher completion rates, higher post-training employment rates, higher student satisfaction rates and at a lower cost to a taxpayer when compared to the public TAFE sector. That’s not to diminish the role of TAFE, but the numbers to speak for themselves. This is what makes the role different and one that’s so very important, the ITECA membership has a great story to tell and it’s a genuine privilege to play a role in telling it.
Let’s go back to the training and education industry. What do you think are the main threats to training organisations in the current environment?
Red-tape is high on the list and that’s why we’re engaged collaboratively with ASQA and TEQSA to look at reform options. The Australian Government has a strong agenda for reform as a result of the Braithwaite Review and the more recent Joyce Review, so we’re working towards that. The second issue is a stable funding base, so ITECA is working with our members to ensure that government funding for students is available on an equal basis through independent and public providers – it’s about student choice.
As an industry leader, what are your views on how we can improve the vocational education and training sector in Australia?
We need a system that is more dynamic, that allows quality providers to work with industry to provide the skills required today and into the future. This will require, as identified in the Joyce Review, changes to how qualifications are developed – that it takes up to seven or eight years for a qualification to be developed is not good enough. Similarly, we need to look at how the sector is regulated, to ensure that the interests of students are protected and also ensure that quality providers can go about their business free from excessive, redundant and duplicative regulation. More importantly, and a key role for ITECA, is to embrace and best use the collective wisdom that exists across so many professionals in the sector. Our members understand what’s required to allow the system to excel, they are at the coal face and can see where improvements are – I want to work to create a relationship where they are comfortable in volunteering their time to ensure ITECA has the information necessary to make a difference.