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SENATE EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 30/01/1997 - Developments in adult and community education in Australia since 1991

ACTING CHAIR —I welcome the next witness from the Australian Association of Adult and Community Education. The committee prefers that evidence be given in public, but if any time you wish to give any evidence, part of evidence or answers to any questions in camera, you may make the request and the committee will consider the request. Such material may subsequently be made public by order of the Senate.

The committee has before it submission No. 73. Is it the wish of the committee that the document be incorporated in the transcript of evidence? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

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ACTING CHAIR —Is there any other material you wish to table at this stage?

Prof. Bagnall —No other material, thank you. A minor correction to the written evidence might be in order; it is totally minor. Should I draw attention to that at this stage?

ACTING CHAIR —Could you just give the correction to the secretary--if it is just a typo or something like that.

Prof. Bagnall —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —You are welcome to make some brief opening remarks, Professor, and then we will go to questions.

Prof. Bagnall —Thank you. I will take that opportunity. In summary, the Research Network, which I am here representing, is an Australia-wide voluntary association of approximately 120 individuals and organisations committed to strengthening and furthering research in adult and community education and its use in enhancing the quality of adult and community education practice.

The submission was prepared in consultation with the full membership through the mailing of a request for suggested input and the circulation of a draft of the submission to the full membership for comment. The submission was drafted and finalised by me, as convener. In so doing, though, I sought to include all suggestions and comments.

The context of research in adult and community education since the 1991 inquiry may be seen as importantly characterised by the following features: the formation and development of research centres with a particular interest in adult and community education in a number of Australian universities; the growth of research in adult and community education, both in quality and quantity and in both the university sector and through adult and community education providing and funding bodies;the development of a research culture in the Australian Association of Adult and Community Education; the limited funding of adult and community education research by the Australian National Training Authority; the strong vocationalisation of the field, including its research, and the curriculum of its programs for the formation and professional development of practitioners; the professionalisation of practitioner preparation and professional development courses in universities; the fragmentation of research interests, activity and support; the accelerated pace of policy change impacting on research in the sector; the privatisation of research interests and support; the de-differentiation of sectoral interests in the public and academic realms; and the inclusion of adult and community education participation data in the NATMISS program.

Within that context, the recommendations in the submission from the research network may be summarised as follows: first, for the enhancement of research on the impact of government policy on adult and community education; second, for periodic equity audits of government policy affecting research in adult and community education; third, for a social impact audit of government policy affecting research in adult and community education; fourth, for promotion of the public and academic profiles of adult and community education and of research in adult and community education; fifth, for the formation of a national information network, serving adult and community education research and development; sixth, for promotion of research into non-participation by adults in adult and community education; seventh, for enhancing the profile of adult and community education academic units in higher education; and, finally, for encouraging cooperation in teaching and research supervision among adult and community education academic units in higher education institutions.

Senator CARR —I am just wondering how you see the Commonwealth role in the adult and community education sector. How might it be improved? Can you paint a picture of what you see it as at the moment, and how do you think it could be improved?

Prof. Bagnall —At the moment there is a diversity of support for programs coming from the Commonwealth government. Because adult and community education is such a broad and diverse field, that is necessarily very disparate and, of course, it is limited substantially to the particular roles of government departments and agencies. I suggest it is most strongly evident in the public education area.

The highest profile impact of the government on the sector and research is through its support of the Australian Association of Adult and Community Education and through the office in DEETYA. What I would be arguing for would be greater recognition at Commonwealth government level--presumably through its Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs--of the sector, particularly through activity directed towards the sorts of objectives that we are outlining in our submission; in other words, focusing on encouraging appropriate policy impact analysis and supporting--through targeted funding--research to look at trends in participation, provision and involvement in the field. While it is not something that our organisation has debated--I am speaking more perhaps as an individual--I feel that that could be channelled sensibly through an appropriate office in the Commonwealth department.

Senator CARR —Essentially you see the main role for the Commonwealth is the funding of research. What about more generalised support for the ACE sector through ANTA? ANTA funding for ACE at the moment is very limited and it is particularly concentrating on the vocational aspects as I read the situation. Would you agree with that assessment?

Prof. Bagnall —I agree with the assessment entirely, yes. The only hesitation that I have is with respect to uncertainty about the Commonwealth's proper role in supporting education as distinct from state support.

Senator CARR —You see it as Commonwealth-state issue?

Prof. Bagnall —Not necessarily an issue but--

Senator CARR —But the Commonwealth plays an extensive role in TAFE generally.

Prof. Bagnall —Yes.

Senator CARR —An extensive role in funding of schooling. Almost 95 per cent of university is funded by the Commonwealth. Why shouldn't ACE be funded?

Prof. Bagnall —I am not arguing against it.

Senator CARR —I am just trying to understand the ambivalence.

Prof. Bagnall —It is just because I do not necessarily see it as my position to decide how that distinction should be drawn. But certainly support is appropriate.

Senator CARR —Given that there is an increasing emphasis on directing funding towards vocational aspects of adult and community education, what impact do you believe that has on the character of adult and community education? Does that in itself tend to change the character of adult and community education?

Prof. Bagnall —Certainly it biases or distorts it in favour of the vocational, and we are seeing that throughout programs. They are being reinterpreted and re-presented as vocationally oriented as distinct from paying attention to a broader range of potential goals.

Senator CARR —How would you describe those broader goals? What are they?

Prof. Bagnall —There are a large number of other functions that adult and community education can serve--more broadly individual development within civil society and public education directed towards individual and collective functioning within civil democratic society. There is more fundamental basic education, not necessarily vocationally oriented, but concerned again with individual development.

Senator CARR —But the profile of the ACE student tends to be for women--short-term programs. Are you talking about the hobby programs? What sorts of programs would you describe that meet the criteria in terms of their contribution to civil society?

Prof. Bagnall —The public education programs that are run through the AAACE, through a number of community based organisations, would be included in that. We felt that the broad scope of adult and community education was well captured in the report of the previous inquiry--and we draw attention to that in our submission--which sees the concerns of the field being much broader. Traditionally they have been much more focused on individual enlightenment, individual cognitive and social and moral development through the historically traditional providers--the workers' education association, the university, extension or similar outreach departments and the state providing agencies and TAFE. So the scope of such programs was itself limited, but differently limited, to that which we have now.

Senator CARR —Could it not be the case that the Commonwealth could contribute towards broadening out the appeal of adult and community education, in particular changing the profile of students so that more working class men were able to participate or were encouraged to participate?

Prof. Bagnall —We would hope so. That is a difficult one. As you observed, the profile of participation tends to be fairly strongly biased towards those who have already engaged in education of some sort or another and have felt some sense of success from it--not entirely, by any means. But one of the greatest challenges that we face is seeing engagement in active learning for whatever purpose by those who traditionally have not succeeded in the education system. I have no ready answers to offer in solution to that except to observe that it is a problem and it is one that in itself could usefully be supported for further investigation, and hence our suggestion that there is a need to focus very much on non-participation in future research.

Since the last inquiry there has been a flourishing--and that might be a bit of an overstatement--but certainly a satisfying increase in the amount of research on the nature of participation supported by a number of bodies such as the New South Wales Board of Adult and Community Education, and we now have a fairly firm understanding of that--that is, of those who participate. Obviously there is room for more investigation and continued follow-up, and that will occur, I believe, but we still have insufficient information on those who traditionally do not participate and the reasons why and what could be reasonably done to encourage them to participate in education.

Senator CARR —This is clearly an area for the Commonwealth to be interested in, do you think?

Prof. Bagnall —Yes. I can be much more certain about that. This, I suggest, is an area of national concern and I take it then that that is an area that the Commonwealth could reasonably support. Research directed towards general community welfare is importantly supported in other areas, and, indeed, in this to a small way by the Commonwealth.

ACTING CHAIR —We are now revisiting this area after our initial report in 1991. Could you perhaps outline the way in which things have changed since 1991 in terms of research in this area: the number of institutions that are involved in it, the number of academics, the scale of the work they are doing, any sort of citation indexes or any measures of research publications?

Prof. Bagnall —Certainly. I am attempting to draw some general threads out of the contextual information that we present here. We have certainly seen the development of a larger number of units concerned with research and development in the field. That development, though, has been driven by the vocational education interest. The majority of those units, given the political and social context in which they are working, are focusing very heavily on the vocational, which is undoubtedly important--there is no question about that. That is a general characteristic of them.

Other units that have a more general focus are not noticeably more numerous, although the strength and volume of their work have certainly increased. For example, the unit at Griffith University and the unit at the University of Technology, Sydney, are both very strong research centres now in the country. The unit which is at the University of South Australia has suffered from university cutbacks in education and the strong reorientation towards the vocational.

There has been an expansion in the quantity and the quality of research through those units, albeit that there has been a shift in emphasis towards the vocational. Nevertheless, there is much more research in general adult and community education than there was at the time of the previous inquiry. It is much enhanced. That is being applied much more than it was in professional development programs through universities. We see the work being utilised in an encouraging fashion, there is no doubt about that.

There has been a strong professionalisation of the Australian Association of Adult and Community Education. It used to be much more of a gathering for the sharing of experience. It has now, through its annual conferences by way of example, become much more professional and is paying much more attention to the outputs of research and how they can enhance the quality of practice in the field.

ACTING CHAIR —Just to give us some idea of the scale of this--you mentioned three universities--how many academics would actively be involved in research?

Prof. Bagnall —At UTS I could not be sure now. Theirs is the largest program. At Griffith we have a full-time staff, aside from those employed on soft money for particular projects, of 13.

ACTING CHAIR —Thirteen academics?

Prof. Bagnall —UTS is very much larger than that but I am not sure how many of them would actually identify themselves as researchers. They have a small number of researchers. The UNE program has diminished with UNE's problems. At South Australia there is a small core, five or six. The other programs around the country tend to be of that order, in the single figures.

ACTING CHAIR —With the University of South Australia, just to clarify what you said about that, is that actually a reduction in this area or is it just a re-orientation into the vocational aspects of ACE, in terms of their research?

Prof. Bagnall —There has certainly been a reduction in staff. There has not been an overall reduction in the number of staff actively involved in research in this area. There has certainly been a re-orientation towards the vocational--indeed, a movement of some of the staff entirely out of the area and to an identification with business management. That is another tendency, a trend in this country, as in others, with the transmogrification of units concerned with research and development in adult and community education into those focusing on human resource development, as is happening in overseas countries now--and we fear that it might happen here--with a movement into business faculties rather than a location and faculties or units of education. Elsewhere--it is not here yet--that is having an adverse effect on the amount of attention that is paid to this field.

ACTING CHAIR —Six years ago we made 33 recommendations in this area of adult and community education, and two-thirds of them were never implemented. One of those that was not implemented related to the establishment of a national research centre. Is such an approach--to have a focused research centre--still appropriate? Or, given the very diverse nature of this sector, and its diverse geographical nature as well, is it better to spread this out?

Prof. Bagnall —It is important to have a focus, a channel, a source of advocacy within government for the field through an office, a council, or whatever entity it happens to be; an office that will work with persons in the field to establish research priorities, to recommend to the Commonwealth government appropriate areas for support and to serve as a clearing house for dispersing that through contract research and other ways. I am less inclined towards the setting up of a research office in the sense that it employs full-time researchers to undertake the work, and more inclined towards having an office that serves those functions on behalf of the Commonwealth government. The research would then be undertaken elsewhere in the country through private and public research bodies, but within the parameters set by the government.

ACTING CHAIR —If we did end up with one major research institution, if the committee decided to recommend that way, dare I ask where you think that should be?

Prof. Bagnall —Do you mean the geographical location?

ACTING CHAIR —Yes.

Prof. Bagnall —It should be in Canberra--no question. It must be close to where the decisions are made so that it is sensitive to the influences on government thinking and is in a position to put its case. There is no question about that.

ACTING CHAIR —With the number of institutions that are now involved in research in this area, you suggest that there should be more collaboration between institutions, more networking, yet universities are tending to become more autonomous. What sort of combination of carrot and stick do you think the government should apply to develop this sort of cooperative arrangement between universities?

Prof. Bagnall —That is a difficult one. It is a problem that we have noted, without making any constructive suggestions for its solution. The trend towards greater autonomy in universities is, in this sense, certainly a worry, because we note particularly the thin spread of expertise around the country. While these research units are quite numerous, most of them have staff numbered in single figures. There is a desperate need for collaboration and cooperation. As a university person, I would say it should be done through incentives, rather than disincentives.

The present and recent Commonwealth governments have shown a high degree of expertise in using incentives and disincentives to ensure collaboration--the disincentives being threats of minor cutbacks in overall support and the incentives being targeted funding for which we bid. There could be general mechanisms of those sorts, I imagine, but I have no simple answer.

ACTING CHAIR —Finally, given the small number of people involved in research in such a vast field, could you identify any areas where there is a need for research to be done but which no-one seems to be looking at, at this stage, because of a lack of people in the field and a lack of resources? I am just trying to get some idea of what needs to be done.

Prof. Bagnall —We have not, in this submission, sought to identify areas of research weakness beyond those of a policy impact nature--there is a set of recommendations to deal with those--and beyond the non-participation ones.

ACTING CHAIR —I was thinking more beyond that. It would be useful in terms of informing policy debate to have research done in certain areas.

Prof. Bagnall —I would be reluctant, off the cuff, to seek to name those. If the committee wished a listing to be put together I would rather do it consultatively.

ACTING CHAIR —Yes, certainly. That would be very useful. Later would be fine.

Prof. Bagnall —If you would find that useful I would certainly be willing to do that. What sort of time line could I put up?

ACTING CHAIR —We are reporting towards the end of March. Some time in the next three weeks or so.

Prof. Bagnall —I will certainly attend to that.

ACTING CHAIR —Thank you very much for appearing today.

[2.18 p.m.]