Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Adult and Community Education - CIT Solutions style

I was fortunate to meet Rob Howarth today - business manager of the Centre for Adult and Community Education, at Canberra Institute of Technology Solutions (CIT Solutions). I initiated the meeting as part of my effort to get to know existing community outreach work in Canberra, for the Access, Choice and Flexibility project I'm engaging in. 

Rob is one of those guys who just emanates enthusiasm for ideas and his work, tempered by experience and sensitivity. Rob and his team are responsible for an amazing Adult and Community Education (ACE) program, culminating in the well known booklet that comes out twice a year in Canberra, listing a very wide range of short courses people can do in anything from Social Ballroom Dancing (8 x 1 hour sessions with Naomi Nicholson for $175) to AutoCAD (7 x 3 hour sessions with Alan Perry for $350). 

Rob's team operate a privately owned company, coordinating some 800 short courses that enrolls around 8000 casual students each year. CIT Solutions emerged out of the ACT Aid Trust in 1983, and have successfully established and sustained a self funded ACE program for the past 18 years. Anyone in the community can approach Rob with an idea for a course, and if the proposal has a good looking plan, and 3 good references, Rob will post the course in the booklet and go from there. The teachers remain independent operators, working under the banner of CIT solutions, many running the courses at their own venues with Rob covering insurance. Others use CIT and partner venues. The program is interested in very broad ranging, introductory courses, leaving specialist tuition and consultation to businesses and contractors, many of whom run intro courses for the ACE program. 

The business operates basically on brokerage fees. The teacher sets their rate, Rob ads an overhead, and that determines the fee for the course. If the course doesn't get the baseline number of students, it doesn't run. Simple as that. The courses are non credited, offering only a statement of attendance, but in many instances they can lead into formal and accredited courses offered by CIT. CIT retains the credited training, such as what industry needs, and Rob tries to compliment that where possible. 

In one sense, CIT Solutions' ACE program is a community outreach interface for formal training, in another it remains financially independent and therefore free of such conditions. I wonder though, if the program might benefit from another layer of outreach, creating an even further distance from CIT and other formal stakeholders. I'm thinking along the lines of The School of Everything and their Illich inspired, smart use of social media to enhance face to face gatherings for learning. Or what about the Free University Movement (re emerging from the 70s), like Melbourne Free University. Might Rob's business model be something those initiatives could use? I'm also wondering about the nature and potential of a relationship between businesses like CIT Solutions, and large, more established volunteer organisations like Melbourne's Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES), and other such community groups who even more clearly identify as community benefit initiatives. What if Rob's work interfaced more with those organisations, helping them to gain more traction and legitimacy in their wider communities, as well as interfacing with formal training and certification. And then there's the relationship that all of them might have with very large international projects like Wikiversity or Wikipedia...?

It was a very interesting, energetic, and refreshing conversation today, and frankly, a relief. Working full time in a place like UC can too easily prevent you meeting people like Rob, and the can-do attitude he brings to his work. I hope we will get a chance to meet and dream big and small again some day.

No comments: