Community Colleges Australia Annual Conference shows an innovative and flexible sector

The picture emerging from Community Colleges Australia’s (CCA’s) recent Annual Conference shows a community education sector exhibiting great innovation, flexibility and responsiveness, a real standard-bearer for ethical education with a high degree of professionalism. The sector manages to combine these attributes with a strong ability to work with vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians.

Held in Melbourne from 25-27 July 2017 with the theme “Investing in our Future”, the Conference hosted the first Annual “Community Education Student of the Year Awards”. The Conference featured six diverse presentations by community education experts: Rowan Cox, John Radvan and Wendy Ratcliffe (all WEA Hunter); consultant and veteran VET researcher, Dr Kaye Bowman; Dr Robbie Lloyd, Port Macquarie Community College; and Frank Krasovec, Jesuit Social Services’ community college.

In his presentation “The Road to Higher Education: A Community College Journey”, John Radvan told how, beginning in 2014, WEA Hunter started the journey towards higher education provision. He examined the background to the decision, described the higher education ‘landscape’ – including the regulator TEQSA – and analysed how that aligns with the community college philosophy.

Rowan Cox took a different approach in her presentation “Emphasis on Community: One RTO’s shift in thinking”, describing how WEA Hunter tackled challenges by working out what its Unique Value Proposition. She described WEA Hunter as, “no longer just an RTO who does other quirky things”, but “a large, diverse, complex community-based not-for-profit organisation whose main business is the delivery of education and training to the breadth and depth of our community.” She noted that, “this change in perspective has had a flow on affect to our organisational structure, marketing and advertising, sponsorship program, and the way we network and relationship build.”

Kaye Bowman spoke on “Investing in Community RTOs: Scope, Scale, Success Factors & Prospects”. She examined the six key roles that community providers play in Australia: platform builders, bridge builders, community capacity builders, work skills developers, promoters of citizenship and facilitators of adult health. She noted how important community providers are in addressing the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians; community providers have high percentages (2015 data) of:

  • People with a disability 13.7 %, higher than in all other providers at 6.2%
  • Students from outer regional, remote and very remote regions 19%, higher than in all other VET providers at 14%
  • Unemployed 26%, higher than in all other VET providers at 20%
  • Students from a non-English speaking-backgrounds 17.4%, higher than in all other VET providers at 15.3%

Kaye Bowman summarised the distinctive values and delivery methods of the community sector as:

  • welcoming, friendly, caring, non-judgmental, informal environment
  • learner-centred, holistic approach, with appropriate support services
  • positive learning experiences every time to foster ongoing learning
  • lowest cost possible quality learning for the student
  • enmeshed in the community – know demand/supply context

Dr Robbie Lloyd’s presentation“Shape Shifting Between VET and the Virtual World of ACE and the Community” – explored a range of innovative approaches to Adult Community Education (ACE) programs in regional and rural coastal communities on the NSW Mid North Coast. He discussed how the NSW VET reforms designed to achieve greater transparency, accountability and assessment still need a major evolutionary development, if they are to meet the day-to-day needs of business, industry and vulnerable community members, including people with disability, mental health challenges, disengaged youth, ageing people and their carers.

Wendy Ratcliffe spoke on “Investing in our Young People: Disengaged Youth and Community Colleges”. She noted that, “A simple Google search highlights the length and breadth of research, articles and other resources dedicated to the idea of how well community colleges support the disengaged and marginalised.” She noted that, “young people, especially those who have had challenging experiences in other mainstream educational environments or limited academic success in the past, are drawn to the community college sector.” She emphasised the “student-centred, supportive learning community” nature of education at community colleges.

In his presentation, “Investing In our Youth: Jesuit Community College Experience”, Frank Krasovec described the Jesuit Community College approach to learning. It emphasises “real skills for life, learning and work”, drawing “on the rich tradition of Jesuit education committed to ‘care of the whole person’ and development of active and informed citizens.” He illustrated his talk with examples of the College’s innovative work, including social enterprises, the African Australian Inclusion Program in Partnership, the Workplace Inclusion Program, and unique hospitality and retail training, work experience and employment in places like the Camberwell Ignite Café and the Western Sydney “The Store”.

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