The power of TAFE – enhanced by the power of collaboration

Posted by Tribal Group

The theme of the recent 2019 TAFE Directors Association Convention was ‘The Power of TAFE’ - a celebration of the distinct role TAFE (Technical and Further Education) plays in vocational education, across schooling and in higher education, for the benefit of citizens and supporting economic well-being and building communities.

Through his address, the Chair of the Productivity Commission, Michael Brennan, made reference to the significant upheaval the sector has faced recently, noting that the big “disruptions and discontinuities” in VET over the last decade came from three central policy changes – the move to national training entitlements, the introduction (and cessation) of VET FEE HELP, and demand driven funding of universities. “My instinct is that we will find it hard to replicate the dramatic pace of change associated with those big three policies of the last decade”. He also noted that “all participants would probably welcome a period of relative policy stability to allow the system to find its feet. But that’s not to say we should do nothing. Stability is not the same as stasis”. It would seem highly unlikely that VET organisations, and their leaders, will experience any such inertia.

The closing from The Hon Steven Joyce (the former New Zealand Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, who led the recent independent review of Australia’s vocational education and training sector) echoed this. His summary of the review’s 71 recommendations, which form the basis of a 6-point plan (designed to ensure that there is a strong VET pathway for students and workers alike, and that industry has a more central role in the future) suggested there is much work to be done to strengthen the sector’s ability to deliver skills now and in the future.

The subsequent responses from the panel, as well as from the floor, demonstrated the passion TAFE leaders have for how best to deliver high quality, targeted education, and to provide equitable education opportunities for as many members of their communities as possible.

With suggestions that a large proportion of the review’s recommendations are likely to be implemented, the question remains as to how TAFE providers can respond and play their key role. The convention’s take-away message, “The Power of TAFE is multiplied when best practice is shared”, could be seen cynically as simply a marketing strapline, but given the upheaval experienced by the sector, this call-to-arms should rather be viewed as an opportunity for the ‘collective’ to combine strengths, passion, experience and business intelligence in order to tackle Joyce’s 6-point plan. And this collaboration aim is prevalent around the globe when it comes to post-secondary education – in New Zealand for example, during Steven Joyce’s tenure as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, collaboration data was used to inform educational policy and strategy; in the UK, Further Education colleges collaborate on their financial performance, efficiency and effectiveness using performance benchmarking as the means of ‘normalising’ data so it can be used in a truly comparative and informative manner.

(Our paper, “Applying globally accepted and proven benchmarking techniques to tackle today’s post-secondary education (PSE) challenges” looks at these examples, examining the common issues faced by post-secondary education systems, illustrating how TAFEs might take a lead from those other systems in order to tackle their current challenges, and exploring the role of benchmarking techniques in their improvement journey.)

So, what can TAFEs take from those other sectors’ usage of performance benchmarking techniques when they consider their response to the Joyce Review? Well, it’s firstly worth making the point that one of the most common hurdles for collaborative approaches between organisations is that of culture. Equally, by using objective, comparable data to underpin an evidence-based approach to collaboration, this significant hurdle is minimised. Performance benchmarking provides this by taking the data from multiple organisations and then ‘normalising’ it by pulling it apart and then applying it to a ‘common’ model which then aids meaningful comparison. In this way a smaller TAFE can be compared with a larger TAFE regardless of their operational structures.

Using this as the foundation, benchmarking can then be used to address a wide range of issues, including:

  • Demonstrably improve TAFE performance in terms of finances and attainment, but also in terms of their civic duty
  • Improving effectiveness and efficiency of delivery
  • Gaining a holistic view of individual TAFEs' costs and performance relative to other providers
  • Informing and creating better, more objective plans for business and quality improvement
  • Improving modelling and forecasting accuracy
  • Improving strategic decision-making and model the impact of future financial change

The pressure on TAFE leaders to deliver the TAFE system of the future cannot be underestimated. The knowledge of where each dollar of funding is invested, and how that contributes to achieving maximum return remains ever important. Utilising comparative performance benchmarking from Tribal supports TAFE leaders in making informed investment decisions, which ultimately benefits students and leads to a stronger, more empowered TAFE sector.

To see how this can apply to your TAFE, access our recent webinar with Craig Fowler, Ex-Managing Director, National Center for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER):

“The role of benchmarking in the future of TAFEs - informing strategy and addressing the key issues faced by institutions”

Alternatively, to have an informal discussion with one of our local Performance Benchmarking Consultants team, email us at


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