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RMIT folds optical dispensing course

RMIT university optical dispensing course

RMIT University has announced the closure of its Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing, ending a 52-year history of educating and training Australian optical dispensers.

The Melbourne institute confirmed to Insight it would discontinue the course from semester two this year, with final students to complete their training at the end of this month.

“Courses and programs are regularly reviewed to ensure they align with in-demand skills and industry needs, and some may be discontinued where there is limited student demand,” an RMIT spokesperson said.

Leigh Robinson.

“In recent years, student numbers have been consistently low for this course.”

In addition to declining enrolments, it’s understood the university was also unsuccessful in a single provider tender process led by Specsavers, which was awarded to Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD) at the end of 2020.

It also comes as other optical trainers experience a surge in enrolments after the government announced a wage subsidy of up to $28,000 per employee as part of its COVID-19 economic recovery.

It now leaves ACOD and TAFE New South Wales as the main training providers, with TAFE Queensland still registered and able to discuss delivery options with commercial clients.

Mr Leigh Robinson, who was an RMIT optical student in the 1960s before later becoming a Cert IV in Optical Dispensing teacher at the university from 2008 until present, said staff and students were made aware of the course’s closure in February. He said it came at a time when the qualification was in great demand from ophthalmic practices.

Memories are clouded on the exact dates that optical dispensing training commenced at RMIT, but with the help of esteemed optical teacher Mr Clem Cumming – who taught between 1970 and 2004 – Robinson said its history can be traced to 1969.

Prior to this in the 1960s, there was no formal apprenticeship, and those entering the optical industry were indentured to their employer who provided on the job training.

“Towards the late 1960s, development commenced toward accreditation of the apprenticeship training course. As any course that attracts government funding, this was not an easy task,” he said.

“Many contributed to the major effort for the course to be approved. Names that come to mind from the time are optometrists John Nathan, Wolf Gartner, Graham Green, union rep – yes, a union rep – Bernard Ericson and lab manager Alan Stark. As well, there was a large group of indentured apprentices who all supported the project by attending the meetings and enrolling in the first intake.”

In 1969, Robinson said RMIT started formally running the Optical Fitting and Surfacing Apprenticeship course. It had humble beginnings in the basement of Building 33 in Franklin Street with Mr Livio Siviz as the teacher.

At this point, the course was largely theory-based until funding became available to provide equipment for the teaching laboratory.

“Training first focussed toward laboratory requirements in lens fitting and surfacing, until the mid 1970s when modular training was introduced by the Apprenticeship Commission. OPSM, Optical Products, Coles and Garrard, Arthur Cocks & Co and International Optical Co., were the major supporters,” Robinson said.

In 1999, flexible training was introduced which prompted major changes to the way the course was delivered. The Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing was introduced in 2003, and was a revised syllabus to maintain continuity with NSW where registration was required.

“Across more than 50 years RMIT has produced a great number of qualified optical dispensers through the efforts of many committed optical teachers including, myself, Livio Siviz, Clem Cumming, Bob Gale, John Van Braam, Tony Hood, Ian Rush, Ralph Richter (twice), Steve Maskell, Tim Haigh, Jade Cusworth, Leah Hollway,” Robinson said.

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