CEO defends TAFE after TEQSA audit

High rates of attrition in some bachelor degree programs at a Victorian TAFE are not as unusual as they might seem, says the institute’s chief, but could be reduced if students had access to Commonwealth funding.
Holmesglen Institute of TAFE, in south-east Melbourne, is the most recent subject of an audit by the new Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency. TEQSA identified attrition rates – 57 per cent in Bachelor of Business (Accounting) students in 2010 – as one of its key concerns with the institute, along with improving student support services and regular reviews of the institute’s governing board. “Why a student doesn’t continue on is quite complex,” Bruce Mackenzie, Holmesglen’s CEO, told Campus Review.
Mackenzie said many of them use the institute as a springboard to accessing a university degree. He said many of the institute’s students were not “traditional”  university students – they were more likely to be over 25, work full- or part-time or own their own business, have a disability, have already done a TAFE qualification, come from a non-English speaking background or to come from a low socio-economic background.
A year in one of the institute’s courses will get them into a university, and, crucially, a course that is Commonwealth supported, unlike Holmesglen’s bachelor programs, which cost several thousand dollars a year. Mackenzie said he believed they lost many students this way, and were looking at ways to retain those who did not go on to further study.
“We commissioned a study by Melbourne University to look at attrition, and what they found was that our rates are comparable with the attrition rates for similar providers in the university sector – those second-tier universities,” he said. “What we are doing now in those areas is paying much more attention to early intervention and we should be able to identify at-risk students earlier.”
The smaller size of TAFE classes meant it was already a safe space for students who might not be prepared for university, and an academic skills unit was integrated into classes to identify student learning problems early on. At the same time, said Mackenzie, Holmesglen was providing tertiary education – it has five bachelor degree programs and two associate degree programs – to “a whole cohort of people who are quite capable of doing higher education but will never get access under the current system”. It was unfair that these students were not able to access Commonwealth funding, he said.
“This is what really disappoints me with such a reformer government – these people are taxpayers and I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to share in the tax-paying largesse that is directed at university students. Why can’t they have access to Commonwealth-supported places?” he asked.
Holmesglen’s full audit report can be found here: http://www.teqsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/auditreport_holmesglen_2012.pdf

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