Academic snobbery, the AQF and VET

One of the very early posts that I wrote on this blog was about staff not wanting to undertake VET qualifications because they had a degree or a masters or a PhD in something and felt that VET was, well, beneath them.  As most of you know by now I have moved roles, out of a role where I was directly responsible for the day to day and strategic management of a VET provider into what could be called a more traditional Learning and Development role and guess what, the whole concept on academic snobbery has raised its head again, albeit in a slightly different way and not within the organisation that work for directly.

Part of the organisations workforce consists of staff who work with clients in a very specific area, so specific in fact that there are less than 300 qualified practitioners in Australia and a worldwide shortage in the area. The primary reason for this is that given the highly specialised nature of the work employment options, at least in Australia, are limited to an incredibly small number of organisations (about 6).  So as you might imagine there is significant difficulty in recruiting and training staff and a very limited number of educational programs designed to provide people with the qualification to work in the area.

This is where it gets interesting, despite various universities over the years trying to maintain courses in this area, student enrollment numbers have over time whittled these courses down to essentially two, with a third that offers the option for those with a degree in education to specialise in an even more specialised  portion of an already specialised field.  The two primary courses are a Masters offered by reputable Australian University and a Graduate Diploma offered by a private RTO which is part of one of the organisations which employ people in this field.  So one is a level 9 under the AQF and one is a level 8.  Where I come into this is that there has been a movement by some parties to to create another Graduate Diploma through another Australian university.

So I was talking through this with a range of interested parties over the last week and I asked the question as to why it was felt that another Graduate Diploma was needed.  The answer I got initially was that for at least a proportion of those people who wanted to enter the specialisation, particularly if they possessed relevant other qualifications a Masters was not necessary, because apart from the specialisation subjects a lot of the other content would have been covered in their previous studies.  This answer initially confused me because I hadn’t asked why we needed graduate diploma, I had asked why we needed another graduate diploma.  When I said this I was surprised by the answer, but I probably shouldn’t have been.  Oh well its a VET course not a university course, was the answer.  A little dumbfounded by the answer so I pushed on and asked if there was something wrong with the course and was met with again an answer which I found surprising.  No was the answer, the course was fantastic and written, trained and assessed by some of the best people in the field.  Just for the sake of information the course is full time face to face 3 days per week for 20 months with 300+ hours of practical work and assessment built in.  I suggested that if that was the case then what was the issue, and again was met with the the answer of well its a VET course so its not as good.  There was a little more back and forth like this until I realised that the person I was talking to really had no understanding at all of the VET sector and the rigor around developing an accredited program at a Graduate Diploma level through it, and their only educational experiences had been through universities.

I was as you might understand a little disheartened after this conversation as it drove home to me that this, what I can only call snobbery still exists.  It is particularly when we have so many providers now both public and private who are dual sector and there has been a lot of talk about the need for post secondary education to be more seamless and not to mention the obvious the AQF itself doesn’t distinguish and as a lot of you know the wording Vocational Graduate Diploma was removed several years ago to signify that there was no difference in reality between these types of qualifications regardless of where they were delivered.

Personally I think it is time that those in higher Ed who still hold these views take a good hard look at themselves and realise that the VET sector is an integral part of the post secondary education and in many cases as we have seen from the data produces better outcomes for its graduates than a university degree does.

 

Anyway thats just my opinion.

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NCVER’s Government funded Student data; What does it tell us?

So for those of you who aren’t aware, NCVER released its government funded student data for 2016 recently and I think it has some interesting findings contained in it.  Firstly though what is the overall picture which the data presents us with. The big thing which should jump out of this data for anyone looking at this data is that 7.8% of the Australian population aged 15 to 64 years participated in the government-funded VET system in Australia in 2016.  That is about 1.3 million students, a 3.3% increase from the previous year.  This shows the enormous part that funded training plays in the VET landscape in Australia and the importance that it plays in allowing  people to undertake post secondary education.  Without this funding a significant amount of that 7.8% of the population would not have otherwise been able to access the training they needed to improve their workforce participation options.

Interestingly while there was an increase in students there was also a decrease in subject enrollments, primarily due to the fact that there was a significant (nearly 300%) increase in the number of people undertaking funded skill sets as opposed to full qualifications.  This points out a growing industry trend and one which must be acknowledge and properly dealt with by all of the various funding bodies involved in the sector, that of increasing demand for focused skill sets to meet the needs of an industry or a particular employer.  This is a trend which is on the rise rapidly not just in VET but across organisational learning and development and post secondary education in general.  Organisations and students are looking for short, focused courses containing a small number of units to fill skills and knowledge shortfalls and to be more competitive in rapidly changing markets.

Interestingly 52.2% of funded students, were enrolled in their study at TAFE or other government providers, with only 40.8% enrolled at what would generally be defined as private providers.  The balance of enrollments were through community education and other providers.  This represents an increase for TAFE in terms of students of 14.8%, with both private and community providers both dipping by around 7+%.  I find this interesting (and yes I know these are last years numbers and things can change) because there has been significant media coverage of the downturn in student numbers enrolled in TAFE’s.  What this seems to suggest, at least to me, is that if TAFE is clearly improving its position in the funded training market, then it must be losing substantially in the more competitive fee for service markets, including income contingent loans which as we all know are not Funded Training.  To be fair, the non-TAFE sector has for a long time (even before VFH) traditionally done better in the fee for service space for various reasons.  I will be interesting to see what the total VET activity data says this year, when we can get a picture of all enrollments to compare against the funded enrollment data.

Every demographic with the exclusion of 15-19 year old’s increased in terms of student numbers as did Females, indigenous people and people with disabilities, which is win as often these groups are the ones most in need of financial assistance in terms of their ability to undertake training.  The community services training package was the largest contributor to student numbers at 18.5%, which given the numbers of staff which will be needed in this sector in the coming years is probably a good thing.  The most popular fields of education though were engineering and education however information technology and natural and physical sciences had very significant drop offs at 14.6% and 16.4% respectively.

Overall the real impact of this report is that it shows that enormous value that funded training contributes to this country.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

P.S.  As some of you know I will be moving on from my current role at the end of this week, to take on a more traditional, less VET centric organisation Learning and development role.  I will be still quite strongly connected to the sector, just in a different way than I currently am.  It is also probably the case that (and I can’t promise this) that I will take a break from posting for a couple of weeks as I get up and running in the new role.

 

Paul

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