The current state of the vocational education in Australia

The vocational education system as it stands today has regrettably been experiencing a slow decline over a number of years, and overtaken globally by similar systems in place in countries such as China, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands. A number of factors have been responsible for this including persistent under-funding, a high level of policy confusion and political ideology divergence, and a decline in reputation due to the unfortunate fraudulent activities by a small number of providers.

Labor has declared it would conduct a thorough review of the vocational education industry if it wins the next election. A considerable amount of research into the sector is already available including reports, reviews and inquiries. Reports from the Mitchell Institute have provided compelling evidence of the need to restore funding to the VET sector. 

Labor’s proposal seems unnecessary and a function of the political cycle that is to some extent responsible for damaged the state of the VET industry today. What the sector really needs is a practical and dedicated leadership that is able to provide the necessary focus and draw the conclusions already present in the available reviews and data to move the sector forward. 

The Australian system is presently lacking the flexibility to adapt to change, the political trust and autonomy it deserved to execute these changes cohesively.

A changing industry and workforce

Maintaining a steady, fair and responsible vocational education system is critical to Australia’s economy and society. This is because a total of 46 percent of 15-19 year olds, and 24 percent of the total population aged between 15-64 actively participate in the vocational education industry every year. 

The industry however is quickly changing, with reports and analysis of current trends of the future workforce all over the world and in Australia (such as the from the Foundation for Young Australians) suggesting the industry will need to focus on delivering additional enterprise and technical skills in the near future. 

“The T-shaped graduate” is a term frequently used in Europe to describe a graduate with both technical skills and enterprise knowledge, a necessarily eclectic individual with collaborative, digital and critical problem-solving skills that will be needed in the vocational sector of the near future.

Proposal

A logical step in the right direction would be to grant new status and functional autonomy to low-risk, established providers who are able to lead the change needed to guide the positive transition of the sector.

This new category could include many TAFEs or TAFE divisions of dual sector universities, a number of not-for-profit providers, and a smaller number of private registered training organisations (RTOs). Several whole-of-state TAFEs could also be recognised in this category. These TAFEs already deliver across the gap between vocational education and higher education. This bestowed classification should be highly prized, and only awarded to the most suitable providers in the industry.

These providers should be granted reasonable funding based on agreed upon outcomes and a quantifiable performance criterion. To help respond rapidly to changes in the competencies required of new and existing workers, self-accrediting status could also be granted to these providers. Student participation, development and course completion can be used as measurable outcomes, together with innovation and development targets. 

The Australian economy is a good fit for the more enterprise focused model of vocational education of the future. This is due to the fact that Australia is largely a small and medium enterprise nation. Small to medium enterprises are a natural fit for the vocation industry’s education institutions.

This proposed model will also help bridge the gap between an the already murky relationship between vocational education and higher education, and ideally will be funded by the Commonwealth and State governments. Emphasising applied learning, this model will help steer the industry in the direction that will be beneficial to future businesses, students and communities.

This article was written citing opinions expressed here