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Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation
Regional development and decentralisation

ADAMS, Professor David, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Community, Partnerships and Regional Development, University of Tasmania

ALLISON Professor Janelle, Principal, University College, University of Tasmania.

CHAIR: Welcome. I need to advise that although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath you should be aware that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House of Representatives. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may regarded as contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I invite you to make an opening statement, after which we will move on to questions.

Prof. Adams : Thank you for the opportunity to present. I will speak for a few minutes about the broad strategy of the University of Tasmania, in part because the strategy can be understood as a new approach to regional development in Australia. The university's transformation strategy, as it is generally known, is aiming both to increase the level of participation, retention and successful completion of a greater number of Tasmanians of more diverse backgrounds, as well as national and international students, in education and learning pathways; and simultaneously to increase our research capability; and, thirdly, and most importantly for this committee, to lead the revitalisation of Tasmanian regions. That is a very ambitious claim: that a university can essentially take a leadership role in regional revitalisation. Importantly, the North West is one of the regions where we have a focus. Indeed, we are on a site today, our West Park site, that will be the centrepiece of the new precinct for the university. Importantly, rather than seeing these sites as traditional campuses, we see these sites as precincts that are connected to the cities and regions of which they are a part. Essentially, and at the core of our thinking about the central role of universities, they need to be much more deeply engaged with their communities' government and industry in the region, and guided much more by those regions whilst retaining their essential teaching and learning functions.

Whilst this thinking has been around for a long time—in fact, it can go back to the 1970s—we have an opportunity to apply it here with some very new thinking, of which the committee is aware, but in particular the thinking around the so-called new economic geography of innovation—the notion of hyper-proximity of learning institutions to businesses, and the significance of that for cluster and innovation. Secondly, there is the importance of universities in providing the technology infrastructure that industry, government and communities can tap into. Thirdly, and again importantly, there is the significance of arts, creativity and culture as an underpinning philosophy that is likely to attract and retain a more diverse range of people into the university systems. There is a lot of complexity behind this. We have forwarded to the committee our documentation, but the essence of what we are doing is an attempt to focus the university's resources on what it is that regions need to revitalise, and to put the university at the centre of that conversation. I will hand over now to Professor Allison.

Prof. Allison : Picking up from that, what makes the University of Tasmania a little different is, within that context, the ongoing commitment to regional campuses. We are actually seeing some of the major metropolitan universities pull away from regional campuses. But because of the particular circumstances in our regions—in the north and the north-west—where we have relatively low levels of engagement in higher education, and for the reasons David has just articulated, we have made a commitment to maintain and indeed grow our regional campuses, and they align with that revitalisation strategy.

For quite some time on this campus in the north-west we have also co-located the Institute for Regional Development. A very strong focus of that institute has been to look at what a regional campus might look like and what its roles and responsibilities could be in the context of the region. So, again, we have built up some credibility across the community around what that might look like. I guess the big lessons I could share with you are: to link to workforce development; and to look to industry needs, and we can point, particularly in the north-west for example, to the manufacturing sector, where we have played a very strategic role, and I think an important one, in helping that sector look at what it needs to do next.

We have been able to develop some particular initiatives based around the learning that have enabled that industry, and indeed different tiers along the value chain, for example, to all actually take a move to skill up. So they are some examples of the way in which a regional campus needs to engage. The big lesson, however, that we took away from the work of the regional campus, particularly here in the north-west, is the concept of the university college. I have to say that we have also learnt a great deal from the USA community college system. The vice-chancellor took a number of us to have a closer look at what those community colleges do in the US. I would point particularly—and I have some documents I am very willing to share—to North Carolina as a very good example of the nexus between the state economic development planning, workforce planning and the role of the community colleges, indeed linked to the research triangle. That is very much the model we attempted to look at in the North American model. We have not slavishly copied it, but we have certainly learnt a great deal. Nobody is any more than 20 miles from a community college—and I use 'miles' because that is what they use in the US. In effect, the community college is open to anyone.

We do have some requirements, but generally speaking we are focused on young people who may finish year 12 but don't have what we would normally call an ATAR or a score to go to university Then we offer preparation. We have developed, again learning from the US, what we call the associate degree. It is a stand-alone qualification. Within it we have identified either an articulation pathway, which can lead to a university bachelor program if a student so wishes and they have decided they feel comfortable, are enjoying what they are doing and would like to do more, but it is ostensibly very focused on employment. So, we have an employment pathway. It is a very, very different structure to the standard bachelor program, and this again speaks to the region and regional needs, and indeed place-based characteristics. Fifty per cent of the associate degree is work-based learning. I have insisted that 50 per cent of the design of the material in the course is work based, and then we weave the discipline-based knowledge together with that work-based learning. We are finding that industries whose employees are now engaging with a university college are responding very positively to the model that we developed. The notion of the university college sits inside the framework that David has articulated as a very distinctive way of engaging with the region and the men and women who live in these communities.

CHAIR: Very interesting. I'm sure we'll have some questions on that.

Ms SWANSON: I want to talk to you a little bit more about the concept of the associate degree, having heard this morning on Radio National we have major business groupings and manufacturing organisations coming out and saying we funnel too many people into universities who either aren't finishing their degree or aren't getting jobs at the end of it, so they want to see more VET-type training and skills-based learning again. I am wondering if what you have described is some sort of a nexus, and what is the linkage—when you say these associate degrees are focused on employment, I'd like to know what kind of employment. I know STEM is all the rage at the moment, and if I hear it one more time! But I am respectful—I like STEAM because I like incorporating the arts into it. However, can you talk to me about these degrees and is there a relationship with where I see this going now—I think we are going to have a big swing back to things like TAFEs and wanting people to take on indentured apprentices again. I am really interested in this concept.

Prof. Allison : There are two parts. I'll come back to that latter part that you have just mentioned, because we have a very nice project that is growing in that space with what we are calling the higher education apprenticeships, but they are not like the UK—there is a very strong movement in the United Kingdom at the moment for graduate apprenticeships, if you like. I'll come back to the trades-based apprenticeships in a moment. I give you the example of our applied science. We have an Associate Degree (Applied Science). As I said, work-based learning is not all placements and internships, because we have identified about 16 types of ways in which you can do work-based learning. We have tried to use those to inform our assessment in the design of the curriculum so that when you are doing a piece of assessment it is a very useful piece of something inside the business in which you might work or can be applied in the workplace.

In the case of applied science, what we have also done in developing that associate degree is try to look at some of the newly emerging scientific-type STEM based businesses emerging in Tasmania, for example. In that case, we've taken a particular focus around what we have called fermentation science and separation science. Emerging industries for us are whisky trails, gin, wine, but also yoghurts, milks, cheeses, et cetera—all of which require fermentation science. Marinova, based just outside Hobart, is an example of a company that extracts from seaweed. It's a globally connected firm. What we have tried to do is ensure that you get good basic STEM science. It's based on building blocks, so we get the right kind of science building blocks. But, at the same time, we're seeking to connect it to industry—not just current needs in industry but trying to be forward looking as to what some of the newly emerging industries and opportunities in this state might look like.

So they are the kinds of approaches for each of the associate degrees. We have called them all 'applied'. We have applied business; we have agribusiness. With agribusiness, it was a direct response to industry asking us for it. Blundstone put a significant amount of money on the table to provide some scholarships for the first round of students in the agribusiness program. So that is the level of engagement we had from industry. Applied design is very interesting. We have been piloting, at the diploma level, with a Tasmanian business that is very big in design. That is a bit new and novel. We've had to walk very carefully through all of the text and required quality assurance and standards, which we've have done. They're all examples of the way in which we have tried to design it with industry mind.

In the case of the science one, the faculty of science has come on board. They have just designed the third and the fourth years. We do years 1 and 2—AQF 5 and 6. They will do the following two years should a student wish to continue. The last bit I would say—

Ms SWANSON: Just before we leave that, if we could just compartmentalise this conversation. I'm guessing that with that associate degree, if students did want to go on and do a bachelor program or masters, they're going to get recognition of prior learning.

Prof. Allison : Full credit.

Ms SWANSON: Fantastic.

Prof. Allison : Where we have a cognate to cognate—so in the case of agribusiness they could then move into the Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture and Business), which is a bachelor course in our School of Land and Food. Our students will graduate with two full years of credit into the third year. That's why we decided in the second year of our program if a student is beginning to think that they would like to articulate then we develop and articulate their specific subjects we make sure they do to enable that articulation to be smooth with full credit. Does that make sense?

Ms SWANSON: Yes—absolutely. Fantastic.

Prof. Allison : We are currently in conversation with industry and Skills Tasmania to look at the idea of building an associate degree around a trades based apprenticeship. I would have to be honest to say that, at the suggestion of Dale Elphinstone, a large business here in the north-west with contacts in US sent me to Georgia. I went to West Georgia Technical College. They're working with a group of about 20 industries. They are developing an apprenticeship in which the young apprentice also completes an associate degree as part of their apprenticeship. Quite literally yesterday we were in conversation with industry here to look at a four-year trades based apprenticeship—which is pretty standard—around which we will wrap and build in an associate degree. It's early days, but it's looking very promising.

Ms SWANSON: It's very exciting.

Prof. Adams : There were two principles behind this which make us, I think, quite different. The first principle is: we are starting off with places as our initial focus.

What we mean by that is that our question is: now and in the future what are the learning and skills needs within particular places that we can respond to? The second principle is that we wanted to be seamless, from the participant's point of view, in terms of whether it's secondary, post-secondary, TAFE, university. And then we respond as a system, at the place level, to provide it. So all the complexities around articulation and certificate I, III or V disappear and the focus across the board is on how we respond as a system at place level. That's very different to the way in which universities and education systems are structured. And as a system we're talking not just about the public system but about the private, Catholic and other systems as well. They're all at the table. And that makes it a very different concept about how learning and education may be designed and delivered in the future.

Ms SWANSON: Thank you. Congratulations!

Ms McGOWAN: I want to do a little bit of a preface before we go much further. As well as this inquiry, which is really important, about regional development there's a parallel inquiry taking place—and it's actually meeting in my community this morning—headed by Senator Bridget McKenzie. It's an inquiry into regional and rural education. I would really encourage you to follow through on that, because it would be useful if we could make these two work together.

Prof. Allison : I would just add that Ms McKenzie has been to the north-west and to the Cradle Coast campus and has seen some of the work—not the more recent work in the university college but some of the work done.

Ms McGOWAN: This is an independent inquiry—

Prof. Allison : Yes.

Ms McGOWAN: so making sure that the two things talk to each other is useful; otherwise we replicate the silos that exist. We don't want to do that, so I wanted to let you know that that was happening.

The next bit I really want to talk to you about is evaluation. I'm interested in evaluation and how we know it works. You guys are a good place, because clearly—you haven't talked much about it but I'm assuming—research is an important part of what you're doing. One of the criticisms we have of government at the moment in terms of regional development is that it's a grant based, project based competitive funding process and we don't really have good discipline about checking that what someone says in their application actually works. And if it doesn't work we don't say, 'You're not going to get another grant because you said all this but you didn't do it.' We don't do that. That needs to happen, clearly. Yesterday we were talking to the City Deal people, because that clearly seems a good model for Commonwealth, state and local working together, and you guys are all involved in that. We were having a bit of a discussion with them about how they're going to evaluate, in a modern, 21st century dynamic way, their effectiveness. Because the City Deal has such good relationships, it seems to us, between the Commonwealth, the state and the local, a good and effective evaluation process will help adjust the program depending on what the information is coming through. I didn't get a sense from them—and I've asked them to follow it up—that they had what I regard to be an ideal, living evaluation process. They said they had some targets, and they had initial reporting things that they worked against. That's baseline. An effective, modern evaluation process is integrated into what you're doing so that as you learn information you can adjust what you're doing according to what you learn. You haven't said anything about that, and I'm assuming you've done it. I'd be really grateful if you'd spend a few minutes explaining to us how you're going to make sure that what you say you'll do you do, that your reporting processes reflect that and, third, that in X number of years other people can come and learn from your evaluation process.

Prof. Allison : I'll let David answer the big question, because we are wrapping up this research, for want of a better term. I think your term was we're seeing it in action as we go. We're in the fortunate position, certainly from the university college perspective, of being a major driver in this project. From the get-go we have set it up so that we are gathering data right down to quite detailed levels. Again, I would have to say I have stolen shamelessly from the USA example because they collect terrific data. For example, we are monitoring student retention and student success. Our course coordinators meet very regularly. We are keeping tabs on all of our students. We are now setting up the database so we can slice and dice the data and look at different cohorts of students and what their performance might be. As I said, we are in the fortunate position to be able to do that.

We have a whole set of evaluations in regard to learning and teaching that are non-negotiable anyway. They are required by TEQSA but they are also required by this university. So, in terms of establishing a framework within which the data is collected—because to do the evaluation you need that data—we have established that so far as university college is concerned. David has had responsibility for looking at the larger research project that frames this.

Prof. Adams : Just as a contextual comment, I think we are all aware that in Australia universities generally evaluate themselves around research, teaching and engagement, and regions generally evaluate themselves around social, economic and environmental type impacts. I'm on the executive board of the Launceston City Deal, and what we are doing in Tasmania is trying to have a single place-based approach so that, instead of having three levels of government—and instead of having lots of KPIs and measures, and university having a set, the regional economic folk having a set, and the community having different sets—we are looking at the extent to which we can have a single view of leading measures. We have made the initial steps in the direction.

So the framework that we are developing at this stage will incorporate the Commonwealth and state funding requirements for the funding for our transformation. It incorporates the council in Launceston and the regional council's strategic directions and their key impact measures. It includes the private sector's understanding of growth, productivity and innovation within the region now and in the future, and it includes our—

Ms McGOWAN: Is it too early to ask—a question on notice—for you to forward your framework to the committee.

Prof. Adams : Of course. And the logic of why we are able to do this is in part the convergence of the City Deal as bringing the three levels of government, alongside the university, and the key economic social sustainability players in the region in one setting, and our ability then to develop a regional economic development plan which is connected to the City Deal. The university is connected to the City Deal, and we have now a series of community engagement processes to ensure that we've picked up the social side.

So our basic framework is coming down to the educational impacts in teaching, the research impacts and, in the broad field which we are calling regional revitalisation, which picks up a whole series of leading measures. One interesting one I would like to mention is the question of population policy, one of the biggest issues in regions—the population 'flows', as we are calling them now as distinct from stocks, and our understanding that universities are absolutely central to the shaping of population flows and the value that that creates. One of our measures, including associated with our university's investment, is how we think that will influence the flows of population and the value that creates in the region. That is aligned quite well to the Productivity Commission's transitioning regional economies and their interesting measure of relative adaptive capacity. We think those types of measures are much more dynamic than the retrospective-looking indicators we have today. So we are attempting to build in the first action around the relative adaptive indicators.

Ms McGOWAN: I would be very keen to have a detailed study of that. One of the things I want to say, Mr Chair, is that we are looking for best practice. We can use this inquiry to talk about what is working. For me, any sort of government policy needs a really rigorous evaluation process. The thing that Tassie has got that lots of Australia hasn’t got is really good internet. So we have been quite jealous. I know people have complained that it is not everywhere, but you're 100 per cent better than most places. I'm really keen to know how you use the huge internet capacity you have to do the evaluation and how we can learn from it. I'm very keen to read that in some detail.

CHAIR: In the interest of time, we will move on to some other questions, if you don't mind.

Mr DRUM: Coming from the regions and having worked in country electorates for a long time, we're really concerned about the educational outcomes in the regions—certainly regional Victoria versus metropolitan Victoria. We come over here and a very poor educational outcome situation is presented to us this morning: 72 per cent of students do not finish year 12. We understand that education equals wealth and wealth equals health. Therefore, we are looking at our regions and it's critical. Plus, when we're talking about the potential to push entities into the regions, whether it be government departments or the private sector, those entities are not going to want to move to an area where they cannot access a well-qualified workplace. You seem to have an amazing relationship with industry, which I've not heard about with universities before, so congratulations. What's your relationship like with the school sector—the primary sector but predominantly the secondary sector? Do you have a strong relationship? Do you take them to the back of the shed, put your hand against their throat and tell them to pick up their game?

Prof. Allison : For starters, at the general level, this university has a pro-vice-chancellor for schools engagement because we recognise that commitment is absolutely essential. From my perspective, one of the things we have, in terms of year 12 data, is extension high schools. I think you'd be aware that the current state government brought in this idea. We break at year 10. After year 10, students historically leave school because, in Tasmania, you then go on to a secondary college for years 11 and 12. That break in rural and regional settings has a profound impact because there are too many kids who think it's easier to take a local job, and parents are often resistant to their children travelling back and forth for a couple of hours or leaving home. So we have extension high schools as well as secondary colleges. We have very good engagement with the schools across the regions. In some schools it is better than others. I have to be honest: some schools engage with us very well, but we also have to build that relationship. We have a list of the schools. We now know which schools have the greatest percentage of young people who either start years 11 and 12 and don't finish or finish with a TCE. The emphasis in this state is to get them to finish with a TCE. They may not have an ATAR, but they're really pushing. The numbers are starting to rise in terms of those who finish with—

Ms McGOWAN: What is a TCE?

Prof. Allison : A year 12 leaving certificate, in effect. Even that was very poor. Any school across Tasmania that has 40 per cent, and higher, of young people getting a TCE but not an ATAR is on our target list for the university college, for example. We have reoriented our recruitment staff so that we can brief them better about the types of messages that they need to take to schools. We know that we have to go into schools with a much more robust message about higher education, but it has to be grounded in what is local and meaningful. For example, one of the things we learned in the north-west is that under no circumstances would I ever downgrade or speak in an inappropriate way about trades and trades qualifications. This is a region with a proud trades history. We tend to start the conversation at that point. Often, with a dad I will say, 'Well, you probably need year 12 maths now,' or 'You probably need some computer science to work that CNC machine.' Dad agrees, and then you can move the conversation into that space. We fond that the principals are realising that we have to start the conversations at that point. I absolutely agree with you, but it's about working with the assets that are in place already and building from that.

Mr DRUM: Thank you.

Prof. Adams : Institutionally, in terms of best practice, the University of Tasmania has a memorandum of understanding with the state government. Within that MOU there are specific objectives around education and learning targets that the university and the state have signed up to that give both the university and the education department an authorising environment to work together on these strategies. At the regional level we have here, for example, a north-west advisory board made up of community, government and industry leaders, and so at the regional level we're also able to have that direct reach into the public, private and not-for-profit sectors of education. Again, institutionally we have a framework to create the right environment, and then at the regional and local level we have the systems to support that. Traditionally that hasn't been in place, but it means that, as when a few weeks ago we went down to Queenstown, we had all the education principals there talking happily with us, knowing they had an authorising environment to do so, knowing that we had shared targets and the same arrangements with TasTAFE. Again, it comes back to that place based focus. We're all interested in the state. We're interested in parts of the state and we're able to work at that place level around shared objectives and shared measures of what success might look like.

Mr DRUM: Is there a sense of urgency both within the principals sector about improvements in educational outcomes and with state government? I know state governments have changed and this is over 20 and 30 years, but is there a sense of urgency that, to take this area into the future, we have to do an enormous job to improve educational outcomes?

Prof. Adams : I think the main difference that most of us have observed in Tasmania in the last five years is the university taking a leadership role in making this an urgent state issue. The issue of poor participation, retention and completion rates in Tasmania and in many regional areas of Australia has been around for a very long time. The difference in Tasmania is a public civic institution—the university—saying, 'We're going to make this central to our business.' That's what's changed the conversation in that a public institution that is also apolitical has been able to bring the parties together, which may have been difficult for a particular government of the day to do. In that sense, the urgency has increased but in a very cooperative way.

Prof. Allison : To add to that: that means stepping up. I point to Peter behind me, but that means we've had to build relationships and take responsibility for relationships with a whole range of types of organisations, from the chambers of commerce through to education ministers, secretaries of education departments, the principals and various community groups. I'm sure you've heard about the Burnie City Council initiative around collective impact and trying to join all the dots. We've had to make sure that we're a player in those spaces.

Mr LITTLEPROUD: I think the model which you've put in place here is something to behold and something to be greatly seen across a lot of regional Australia, but obviously that comes at a great cost not only in the establishment but in the ongoing funding. I'm keen to get some perspective around, in particular, ongoing funding you put in for students. Does that just come in the normal course of business with the university? Is there additional scope in terms of how governments are looking at funding what you are doing here and in regional north-west Tasmania?

Prof. Allison : The start-up for the university college has required investment from the university, so it's a measure of its commitment et cetera. We have tried to do that in as lean and efficient a manner as possible, but we have had start-up funds. We had a year to get set up and we attempted to go live this year because my view was that the only way we were going to test it was to go live. I will be honest: one of the issues we do face—and you may well have heard this across your hearings—is that the space in which the university college operates is the sub-bachelor or predegree space, and, at the moment, that is capped. For Tasmania and maybe, I feel, for many parts of rural and regional Australia, that's an issue. I will say that potentially that's a constraint if we hold to the cap in the prebachelor spaces. I'm certainly not going to get into that wide a discussion, but that does have implications for us.

I will be very honest: for many of our students HECS is not an issue. Once we get past the barrier of engagement in education, HECS doesn't loom large. It just kind of sits there as something you pay with your tax further down the track, so to speak. But the real costs of getting to class, internet access and child-minding are the big ones. For example, when Blundstone put some money on the table, we felt that the best use of that money was to enable our students to move around the state to the various workshops, which in the case of agribusiness were being held on real industry sites. So I would be honest in saying that, for rural and regional students, assistance in the area of equipment and resources that enable their education is fundamentally important.

They are the very local issues. David may have a bigger-picture perspective.

Prof. Adams : The broad principle that underpins the significant Commonwealth, state and university investment in the transformation is an assumption that a significant investment in regional human capital will convert over time to significant learning outcomes but also significant growth, innovation and productivity gains to justify the investment. That's the broad value proposition, and the nuance there is the notion of specifically investing in human capital and its future growth. To make the connection to the committee's terms of reference and particularly to B and C, for Commonwealth and corporate decentralisation, having the capability at a regional level not just to attract people there but to maintain and enhance their skill levels while they are there are absolutely central to the conditions under which people are likely to move and likely to stay over a period of time. That's something we're learning here; once people are in a region, the more they can have equivalent experiences in terms of learning opportunities, the less likely they are to leave and the more likely they are to say.

Prof. Allison : To give you an example: we have a rural clinical school that's based here. You'd be familiar with that model. We've now reached the point where it's highly competitive for the 45-odd young students who can have a place at the rural clinical school. That's the accommodation that many of them use. The reason that they like to come is that they've now gathered that they get this variety of experiences ranging from west coast, King Island and aged care through to young children or whatever the family circumstances might be. That does require some additional investment from the Commonwealth in the case of the rural clinical schools, but there's evidence to show that, once those students have been here, many of them choose to stay. Many of them choose rural placements subsequently. So there's a lot about that model that actually works.

Mr LITTLEPROUD: If we wanted to see these sorts of facilities pop up across many parts of regional Australia, the business case for a university in many cases is around making sure that you're getting paid, caps an those types of things. In particular, you want it targeted with a local approach, which I think I heard is what you'll be doing. Federal government settings would need to ensure that we look clearly at that funding model to incentivise a business case for a university to undertake it.

CHAIR: Did you wish to make any final comments?

Prof. Allison : In regard to the university college model, I was just going to send you to a website—the Aspen Institute—which has a program for community colleges in the USA. Every second year they offer a $1 million prize to the best community college in the US. They have a whole set of marvellous criteria by which they judge it. You will be most interested to know that the 2017 winner was the community college in North Dakota. I hope to visit it, because I figure a rural state like North Dakota must have something to tell us. The runner-up was Northeast Community College in Nebraska—two rural states. So I think there is something very interesting to learn from that.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your attendance here today, your submission and your evidence presented today. You were asked by Ms McGowan for some extra information. The secretariat can liaise with you about submitting that, but we ask that you forward it to the secretary by Friday, 20 October. They will liaise with you about that. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you will have an opportunity to request corrections to any potential transcription errors. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much being with us today.