Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kangan, Myer (1917–1991)

by Martha Kinsman

This article was published online in 2016

Myer Kangan (1917-1991), public servant, educationist, and Jewish community leader, was born on 12 July 1917 in Brisbane, eldest of five children of Russian-born Froem Kangan, painter, and his wife Julia, née Sallte. Myer attended Brisbane State High School and qualified as a primary school teacher at Queensland Teachers’ Training College. From 1936 to 1941 he taught in state schools in Brisbane and the outback. He then moved to Sydney to work as an assembler with the Department of Aircraft Production. In 1941 he matriculated at the University of Queensland and was admitted as an external student (BA, 1948; B. Com, 1951). Found unfit for military service, in 1943 he joined the Department of Labour and National Service as an industrial welfare officer.

Moving to the department’s central office in Melbourne in 1946, he specialised in personnel management and edited the department’s Personnel Practice Bulletin until 1958. He was promoted to assistant secretary (1959), first assistant secretary (1962) and deputy secretary (1971). These senior roles included responsibility for the Commonwealth Employment Service and Australia’s relations with the International Labour Organization. At the University of Melbourne he had lectured part time in industrial administration (1952-58) and served (1955-59) on the council of the faculty of economics and commerce. He was president (1955) of the Institute of Personnel Management (Victorian Division), and in 1958 published Australia’s first text on personnel management (Personnel Practice for Australia). In 1972 he was appointed OBE for public service.

The Whitlam government, in April 1973, appointed him chairman of the committee to advise the minister for education on the future development of technical and further education (TAFE). Kangan’s unifying concept of lifelong learning was central to the committee’s 1974 report, TAFE in Australia: Report on Needs in Technical and Further Education, which identified TAFE as a distinctive and coherent sector of Australian education. For the first time specific funds were to be earmarked to encourage the participation of women, people with disabilities, and ethnic minorities. In April 1974 the minister for education, Kim Beazley senior, endorsed the Kangan report, predicting that it would revolutionise Australian technical education. The government created a statutory TAFE Commission that would administer Commonwealth financial assistance to the States and implement other recommendations of the report. The former prime minister, Paul Keating, wrote of Kangan, ‘It will become increasingly difficult for TAFE students in the 1990s and beyond to imagine how bad things often were before Kangan … The achievement of the Kangan Report was to present the Commonwealth Government with a series of principles and strategies to transform the system’ (Kearns and Hall 1994, Foreword).

A small, slightly built man, Kangan was greatly influenced by his Jewish faith, tempered by his father’s advice to ‘think Jewish’ in a Jewish context and to ‘think non-Jewish’ in more secular contexts (Kangan 1986, 30). His incisive intellect and administrative expertise earned him universal respect, although his sharp tongue could be disconcerting. Friends found him clever, energetic, and compassionate, with a lively sense of humour.

Following retirement on health grounds in July 1974, he achieved his lifelong ambition of visiting Israel. Moving to Sydney he continued to accept speaking engagements to promote his philosophy of adult education. He also chaired (1975-76) the vocational committee of the Australian Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, and co-authored Removing Post-School Learning Barriers: Handicapped People (1977). He founded (1982) Sydney’s Jewish Centre on Ageing to provide older Jews with ethnically sensitive domiciliary care, thus alleviating the fears of many, particularly Holocaust survivors, that they would be compelled to end their lives in non-Jewish aged care institutions. He regarded this as his most satisfying achievement. In 1983 he was appointed AO for public service and service to education.

Kangan never married. He died at Bellevue Hill, Sydney, on 4 October 1991 and was buried in the Jewish section of the Toowong cemetery, Brisbane. A Commonwealth-sponsored seminar (1994) commemorated Kangan’s pivotal contribution to Australian education. The following year, Broadmeadow College of TAFE, Melbourne, was renamed Kangan Institute in honour of the founder of Australia's TAFE system. A room at the Jewish Centre on Ageing was also named in his honour.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Australia. House of Representatives. Parliamentary Debates. 1974, 1339-43
  • Kangan, Myer. ‘ A Comment on TAFE in Australia.’ In The TAFE Papers, edited by D. McKenzie and C. Wilkins.  Melbourne: MacMillan, 1979
  • Kangan, Myer. ‘Jewish Ethnicity. A Personal View.’ In Jewish Ethnicity and Home Support Care for Jewish Elderly at Home. Woollahra: Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing, 1986
  • Kangan, Myer.  ‘Kangan on Kangan’s Philosophy.’ TAFE Teacher 16, no 2 (May 1984): 9
  • Kearns, Peter, and William Hall, eds. Kangan: 20 Years on: A Commemoration: TAFE 1974-1994. Leabrook, S.A.: National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 1994
  • Rushbrook, Peter, and Ross Mackinnon. 'Technocrat or Visionary?  Reflections on the Kangan Legacy.’ In Different Drums One Beat? Economic and Social Goals in Education and Training, edited by Fran Ferrier and Damon Anderson, 159-64. Adelaide: NCVER Ltd, 1998
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

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Citation details

Martha Kinsman, 'Kangan, Myer (1917–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kangan-myer-22097/text32037, published online 2016, accessed online 11 December 2018.

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