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.

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.

10 Responses to Academic snobbery, the AQF and VET

  1. Paul Saunders says:

    Hi Paul
    another very interesting opinion piece. The snobbery towards vocational education has very long antecedents in the Anglophile world. I’m from the UK originally where one was well aware that “a gentleman did not get his hands dirty”. The leaders of the British empire went to the ‘right school’ and studied the Classics at Oxbridge. Times have moved on but this old snobbery seems to have been replaced with the new version you describe. Australia is likely to have a much better future if we can adopt some of the attitudes of the continental northern European or Asian countries. For example Germany – they have very few natural resources but are one of the leading manufacturing nations. They certainly would not sell their resources overseas at ‘fire sale’ prices (gas, metal ores) as we do. In our situation I am confident the Germans would train even more highly skilled vocational specialists, add enormous value to their export products and live exceptionally comfortable lives.


  2. basdenleco says:

    Dear Paul,
    Great piece, definitely resonates for me.
    Derek B

  3. Brenda Woollard says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Paul. Snobbery exists due to lack of knowledge, how often have I been informed by a parent that their child is on a Uni pathway….. as if gaining a vocational qualification is 2nd rate.

  4. WENDY CATO says:

    As usual an excellent post and on the “mark”. Thank you

  5. Wayne says:

    Great Read well done. Yes a duplication and a waste of having the 7-9 months journey to accredit another course just because they don’t like VET Sector, Does it not come to mind that the outcome can be achieved by the Vet Grad Dip anyway and therefore ASQA should reject the application if they are prepared to go against an Institution rather then their regular prey small SME RTO,s . I was privy to a recent case of a Uni operating as an RTO as well and had issued 4000 Certificates all of which signed by the Former CEO who had left employment 14 months earlier but the awards were still sent out with the past employees signature. Imagine that no action by regulators. I am aware of another Uni that employs trainers/assessors and no PD no matrix and no updates of or any checks on their Qualifications against the Standards 2015, for at least 3 Years. Obviously no Audits take place their ASQA. Double Standards.

  6. Paul Saunders says:

    Hi Suzy
    a great rant! Also very interesting background information on the AQF. I checked your link but there are no details about the review just an email address for enquiries. Do you know what the alleged problems are with the current version and what is intended?

    Paul Saunders
    Executive Officer
    Curriculum Maintenance Management Service, Victoria
    General Manufacturing

  7. Phil Rurherford says:

    Spot on Paul. Too many – for whatever reason – see VET as the gap between senior secondary school and university. That mighr be true for some trade courses but not for VET as a concept that helps those with or without academic skills to survive and thrive in the world of work.

  8. Tom Carpenter says:

    Having attempted to work with several universities to cooperatively integrate our service offerings (we offer Grad Cert and Grad Dip accredited courses) through unbiased and wordily wise individuals, their closing comments were always along the lines of: “I would love to, but the academic committee would shoot the whole thing down in flames, there is no point in even trying.”

    However, Paul, I wouldn’t fret too much, the inverse is also true and a great marketing tool for the VET industry at this level…

  9. Vinay Nair says:

    Every Education has its place in a person’s journey…. its not about superiority…

  10. Peter Hannigan says:

    The snobbery you describe has other consequences. The elites that control decision making in any country usually went to university and want their kids to go to university. The result is a disproportionate emphasis on university level higher education, rather than looking at the balance between TVET and Universities.
    You see this at its worst in developing countries where the funding of education is heavily distorted towards universities. The graduates then often have low employment prospects in their country as the numbers are too great or content inappropriate for the structure of the labour market. Meanwhile the TVET sector is starved of funds even though it is the area that could produce the skills needed by an industrialising economy.

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