Lets stop talking about VET and Higher ED and start talking tertiary education

For those of you that aren’t aware I have spent the last few days in Sydney at Akolade’s 2nd Annual Innovative Business Models for VET Forum.  It was a really interesting couple of days with a large number of highly experienced VET people in the room and presenting and it was chaired of course by yours truly.  One of the themes if you will that wound its way through the forum was the idea that VET is, well, often considered to be the poor cousin to going to university or what is traditionally spoke if as Higher Education.

There were a range of stories and anecdotes from many of the speakers and attendees relating to the idea that often in this country, and in other countries (Thanks Prof Mohan) that children and young adults who choose to undertake Vocational education are viewed in some respects as having failed or not achieved as much as they could have done.  Now interestingly while this view of children having failed if they undertake a VET course may not be the standard viewpoint in Australia, it is certainly the case, that the view that VET is the not quite so good second cousin to going to university is still very strong, in fact my very first post on this blog was a short piece which pointed out the academic snobbery that existed between Universities and RTOs.  There was also a lot of discussion at the forum about the fact that it is often better for a student to undertake a VET program and be successful than it is to try and struggle through university and either fail or get lower grades, as employment opportunities for someone with a VET qualification may be better, in a number of areas at least, than for someone with a a mediocre university transcript.

I think it was Norman Gray from the Box Hill institute (sorry if it was someone else) who made a point that really captured the essence of the sectors for me, he said (and I am paraphrasing a bit) VET is simply applied tertiary education and what is delivered in Universities is simply theoretic or research driven tertiary education, they are still both part of the tertiary sector.  It dawned on me at this point that this was one of the first times I had heard the post secondary education sector cashed out in a way that was simple and made solid sense.  Let’s think about it for a minute, when you leave secondary school and move into post secondary or tertiary education you are simply making a choice about whether you want to take a study path where the focus is on the application or a study path where the focus is on theory, it is all still tertiary education.   In fact when we look at definitions of tertiary education we see that in general all of the definitions agree that Tertiary education, also referred to as third stage, third level, and post-secondary education, is the educational level following the completion of a school providing a secondary education, for example universities as well as institutions that teach specific capacities of higher learning such as colleges, technical training institutes, community colleges, nursing schools, research laboratories, centers of excellence, and distance learning centers.

Now this should not be taken to mean that I think that RTOs (public or private) and Universities (public or private) should all just be lumped together, particularly in terms of how they are regulated and how they develop and provision the courses which they provide to the consumer nor that the distinction which Norman pointed out around applied vs theoretical knowledge is not an important one.  However if we talked about the post secondary sector as a single entity with simply two paths which could be chosen depending on the what learning experience and journey was important to the student, we may find some interesting things happening.  If viewed as a single sector, we might see a reduction in the number of Higher Ed students who drop out in the first year because it is simply not for them,  because rather than heading down the University track because it was expected, they chose a Vocational (applied) pathway from the start.  We might also see a raising of the profile of Vocational education as a legitimate choice for students and not just a poor cousin where people who couldn’t cut it for university go.

Anyway thats 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.

3 Responses to Lets stop talking about VET and Higher ED and start talking tertiary education

  1. Ross Woods says:

    Yes, there’s snobbery. But there’s plenty of irony. It’s an old statistics, but there are more university graduates continuing on to VET that vise versa.

    I’m not sure that the US model is so bad; lots of VET is done at the Assoc. degree level in higher education. And it require high school graduation or equivalent (e.g. GED) to get in.

  2. Bryan West says:

    I was reminded of your article, Paul, when I read the piece in The Australian that pointed to a large number of RTOs pursuing TEQSA accreditation, so I came back to read it anew.

    Do you think that the perceived distinction between VET v. Higher Ed will be blurred as more private providers with an historically ‘VET’ background move into the historically publicly dominated ‘higher ed’ space? Thinking aloud, could this also mean that the ultimate goal of the AQF could be realised as barriers between the two become more destabilised?

    What do you reckon?

    • pauldrasmussen says:

      Bryan, I tend to agree with a more holistic system which recognised a continuum both in terms of providers and the AQF there would be much better outcomes for students.

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