Ethics and the VET sector

I sort of touched on this subject last week when I talked about sustainability and growth in the VET sector, however I have found myself thinking more about the concept of professional ethics in relation to education management and the VET sector more over the last few days.   As some of you know my academic background is in philosophy and ethics, particularly professional ethics and bioethics. so the whole concept of ethical behaviour within business and professional entities of something for which I have a soft spot. With that view behind me I thought I might try to delve deeper into this whole issue of ethical behaviour within the VET sector.

I think one of the key issues here is a simple one.  It would be my suggestion that the primary goal and therefore what we should use as a starting point here is the concept of providing quality student outcomes.  If we put the provision of quality student outcomes as the core tenet of what we are supposed to be doing then I will suggest that everything else falls into place.  The real problem I would also suggest is when this central tenet become diluted for some reason, primarily as we have seen the pursuit of profit over the provision of quality student outcomes.  There does exist however a certain tension particularly with for profit providers, but in reality with all providers both public and non-public between generating suffice income to remain sustainable and providing the quality outcomes for students.

The issue of quality outcomes for students, or more correctly higher quality resources, has also be put forward by some as justification for the 300-400% increases we have seen in the cost of a diploma over the last 5 years.  Now certainly some of that increase has come from, at least in some cases the provision of better quality resources to students in an attempt to drive better quality student outcomes, however in the vast majority of cases I find it difficult to see how the quality of student resources and as a flow on from this the quality of student outcomes has improved by the same 300-400%.  In fact again in most cases the resources I see today are pretty much the same as the ones I saw 5 years ago.  They may have been prettied up and digitised or designed or delivered by someone of note, but the content and the assessment seem at least to me to remain the same.

Back to ethics however.  If we decide that the central tenet of what we are doing as educational providers is providing students with the best possible outcome what comes from that?  Well at least a few things I think.  To produce the best outcomes students should be;

  1. Enrolled in courses appropriate to their literacy and numeracy skills.  This to me is a no brainer.  If your LLN skill are not sufficient to undertake a diploma you should not be enrolled in a diploma,
  2. Enrolled in courses which map onto their desires with respect to education and employment outcomes.  Enrolling someone in a Diploma of Counselling, when the person just wants to work in the community services sector is probably not appropriate, as a certificate III qualification is probably going to be more useful to them in terms of finding work,
  3. Enrolled in courses which offer the student the best value for money.  Why enroll a student in a $15,000 diploma level course when a certificate iii or iv course which is funded may offer them similar or better employment outcomes for a fraction of the real cost,
  4. Provided with the support and resources they require in order to have the best possible chance of actually completing the qualification.  The number of times I have heard of students being signed up for online diplomas and once their name was on the dotted line and they had been given access to the ‘learning portal’ they never heard from the provider again boggles the mind and
  5. Provided with quality trainers and assessment materials with meet the necessary standards.

Now let’s think about this for a moment.  If providers were to put this sort of thinking front and center, before thinking about how much that student is worth to them or how much profitability there is I tend to think that most of the problems we have been seeing would rapidly disappear.  It is only, it seems to me when the notion of increased profits, or expansion, or profile or something else is put before the needs of the student and the provision of student outcomes that we get ourselves in trouble.

This is not to suggest that profitability, good business practices and sound financial sustainability run contrary to the provision of quality student outcomes.  Nor is it to suggest that students should be provided with so much, that sustainability takes hold and the provider goes under or in the case of public providers requires a bail out of sorts from governments.  Sustainability and student outcomes can, should and must go hand in hand whether the provider is a public or a non-public one, but keeping this idea of quality student outcomes first, puts us on the right track overall.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.



About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

One Response to Ethics and the VET sector

  1. Sounds good, proft isnt the most important factor, the proper student out comes should be combined with good business planning to make a sound proft not just rip people and the govt off. There should be open accountability we should be able to look at RTO’s books or the regulators should on demand not when they have had a chance to hide every thing. Petsonally l have only worked for dodgy rto’s so havent seen the best of the industry so l aggree with everything you say.

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