Melbourne Polytechnic: Australian Industry White Knight

Melbourne Polytechnic is developing students to meet the demands and challenges of an ever-changing workforce. Business First speaks with CEO Frances Coppolillo about preparing students to have a positive economic impact.

In February 2018, Melbourne hosted its annual White Night event. The event, which is Melbourne’s version of the Nuit Blanche movement that originated in Paris, turns the city into a kaleidoscope of colour, music, movement and sensation.

Given the breadth of events held during the course of the night, this isn’t just a fun night out: it is also an education.

Which is why Melbourne Polytechnic has become White Night’s first education partner sponsoring Patrick Shearn’s 2018 Liquid Sky installation.

“Industry partnerships like this are a great way for our students to see in practice how the arts and engineering skills they learn here have infinite use and meaning outside the classroom,” says Natalie Robinson, Melbourne Polytechnic’s Director of Marketing and Communications. “There’s a real opportunity for the students to bring that learning back into the classroom and understand the wide variety of opportunities they have, whether these opportunities are offered to them, or created by them.”

“These experiences really illustrate enterprise skills like creativity, innovation, problem solving, collaboration, that are essential in the new world of work that students will be graduating into.”

Robinson’s view here is representative of what a Polytechnic is. Recently appointed CEO, Frances Coppolillo says that a polytechnic represents a continuum of education from Certificates to Masters, but most importantly this continuum is reinforced by deep relationships with industry.

At its essence, a polytechnic combines hands-on TAFE (VET) and Higher Education (Degree) programmes to equip students with the knowledge and skills to excel in an evolving and challenging marketplace.

Melbourne Polytechnic stands out because it focuses on practical industry-relevant training designed in collaboration with industry. It is Government funded and owned and is designed to foster and encourage diversity.

Industry relationships are highly valuable in this environment. “Industry engagement supports workforce development and secondly gives students real life experiences,” Coppolillo says. “Learning is much better embedded into someone’s mind when they are experiencing worksite practices.”

Coppolillo knows a thing or two about best practice in education. She joined the VET sector in 1986, spent 14 years as the Associate Director of the Faculty of Further Education at Melbourne Polytechnic and Deputy Director Programs – Teaching and Learning and was appointed to the foundation Board of the TAFE Development Centre.

She is recognised for her educational leadership and experience in the delivery of quality education and training provision and her commitment to the professional development of staff.

Her leadership is certainly evident when speaking about the importance of relationships in the context of gaining real world experience.


The education/workplace relationship works two ways for Melbourne Polytechnic. Firstly, it provides insight into the challenges faced by industry.

This gives Melbourne Polytechnic the opportunity to create offsite programs.

Secondly, industry is encouraged to provide feedback with relation to Melbourne Polytechnic’s courses, their appropriateness to students and how well industry and education can work together to meet each other’s needs.

“We work across higher education and vocational education to create an applied process to learning,” Ms Coppolillo says.

“It is applied, experiential learning in terms of technical skills, but it also gives prominence to enterprise and soft skills that support employment. We want to create applied experiences where students work collaboratively to solve problems, which helps them adapt to new workplaces.”


There is no doubt the workplace is changing day by day. New technology, generation gaps, changing HR practices all factor into the way businesses now operate.

Coppolillo says part of the problem is the industrial construct that most workplaces are based on.

“Industry and education is based on an industrial construct which is fast crumbling. So the question becomes, how do we create an environment that enables students to adapt to modern workplace changes and challenges as well as give them the technical knowledge, people skills and thinking skills required to succeed in this environment.”

Coppolillo, who was appointed as CEO in November last year says in the industrial age 10% of the workforce was required to think and 90% needed to do. What we are seeing now is everybody needs to think and do at the same time.

“As one is crumbling the other is forming, so how do we best create pathways across disciplines that bring learners together and addresses these challenges?”

It all comes down to collaboration: between industry and students, between students and other students.

The way forward is through collaboration, understanding and communication. It is through agility and an enquiry based learning pedagogy that brings together various disciplines and knowledge bases that are attractive to employers.


When asked about the importance of international relationships, it is clear that Coppolillo sees that all relationships are connected to the end goal of preparing students for the workforce whilst contributing to industry and economy. Interestingly, Melbourne Polytechnic is doing this on a global scale.

“Whilst we are supporting local industry to grow, we also have a global outlook,” she says.

Melbourne Polytechnic has 5000 offshore students working in China and throughout Asia. It has international students coming to study here from over 70 countries, across six campuses and over eighty courses.

It began its China program back in 1995 and has thrived since. Its partnerships are also diverse.

From the Insurance Professional College, to Shandong Management School and Wuhan Tourism School, students can gain valuable experience immersing themselves in different learning cultures and work experiences.

Other partnerships include Hong Kong Universal Education, Shin Ansan University in Korea and Wandee Culinary Technological University in Thailand.

“Our collaborations are varied and we offer offshore programs where people are looking for Australian qualifications, international skills, training and support.”

Importantly, Fuzhou Melbourne Polytechnic (formerly  IEN Institute of  Minjiang  University) is an international institute in cooperation with Minjiang University and Melbourne Polytechnic, and has 18-years experience in Sino-foreign education that is invaluable for Melbourne Polytechnic’s students. It is the first independent Sino-foreign cooperative education institute in Fujian Province, and the 12th  of its kind in China.

Finally, Melbourne Polytechnic is involved in an aid-funded project in Mongolia with Umnigobi Polytechnic.

“Education is a big industry and a big export in Australia. It  is vital that international and domestic students are involved in an exchange because it creates such big opportunities not only for themselves but for future economic prosperity and understanding.”


Coppolillo is the first female CEO for Melbourne Polytechnic and her goals are certainly aligned with Melbourne Polytechnic.

The goal is to have the Melbourne Polytechnic team contribute to making Melbourne Polytechnic indispensible to the community and industry.

“We want Melbourne Polytechnic to be the place to come to develop community connections and invaluable skills for future employment. We want them to have skills that industry sees as relevant to their workforce. We want them to be highly connected in an economic and social sense. Our students gain valuable capabilities with us and to continue to improve those capabilities would be a great legacy.”

Melbourne Polytechnic prides itself on being a multi-cultural community that is responsible for improving the skills of and supporting all students, including a significant number of refugees and migrants.

“Like all our students we want them to find their feet, make an economic impact and have social cohesion.”

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *