Vocational education in regional areas needs more focus

The new Coalition government under Scott Morrison has already made its first promises concerning the future of tertiary and vocational education. 

Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Skills and Vocational Education and Dan Tehan, the Minister for Education, made an announcement last month outlining the government’s plan to offer rural, regional and remote students scholarships for STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and maths). 

At face value, this appears to be a positive move aimed at helping boost STEM skills student engagement numbers in regional areas. In his April report, Professor John Halsey pointed to a need to address the shortage of student numbers, bridge the gap and up-skill students in regional, rural and remote areas

There is considerable debate as to whether the scholarship approach is the best way to address the problem. This approach can be viewed as a quick fix that may drive students further towards university and away from vocational education. 

The government has also not considered whether this approach will assist regionally based RTOs; students who wish to meet these scholarship requirements are also not required to undertake study in their local region, as the main objective of the scholarship is to provide financial and course fee assistance for students.

It also does not address other regional concerns outlined in Professor Halsey’s report. 

These include:

  • VET & VET/university options
  • associate degree programs
  • available, accessible and affordable high-quality work experience placements

It would be helpful to hear how regional VET providers view the government’s present strategy and whether they consider this a helpful approach that will boost student recruitment numbers into tertiary education in regional areas. Consequently, the long-term benefits of the recent policy changes outlined by Cash and Tehan are not yet clearly visible for regional students and VET providers. 

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