Diploma’s or Certificate – Employments outcomes v Qualification level (The problems of Australia’s debt fuel Diploma industry)

Given a number of discussion I have had recently around Vocation training (VET) in Australia and in particular the rise of debt funded diploma industry I thought I might take a look at some actual figures and see whether or not getting a Diploma (AQF level 5) made any significant difference to employment options and outcomes, or whether it was the case that a lower AQF qualification, in particular level IV or III actually had the same or better outcomes in terms of employment.  So to the figures.

As most of you know NCVER is the place to go to look at statistics relating to the VET industry in Australia.  Now it is important to note that this data is around 12 months old, but still I think worth looking at now if only in the context of us then being able to comment on the new data when it comes out.

If we look at the student outcomes to total VET activity by key measures table it seems to be at least to my eyes beginning to tell us some interesting stories.  If we look at table 21 – Key findings for graduates by qualification firstly what do we see?

 

We see that the biggest proportional increase in employment before and after training at 8.9% is at the Certificate II level with the Certificate III (7.8%) and Certificate I (6.9%) not far behind.  The lowest performers (and significantly lower are Certificate IV and Diploma or above Qualifications at 1.6% and 1.7% respectively.

When we look at table 22 which represent module completer’s rather than graduates we see that the situation is even worse with what appears to be almost 1% fewer people employed out of those that started but did not complete a diploma level course again with the result better at a certificate III, II and I level.

And the trend continues when we look at Improved employment status after training for those employed before training,  at a certificate III and II level  21% of respondents were employed at a higher skill level while only 14% and 10 % for Diploma’s and Certificate IV’s.  Of those not employed before training 51% of Certificate III graduates were employed after the training as opposed to 43% at a Diploma level.

 

So what does this all mean?

Well and I am happy to take any challenges to this as I am now making some assumptions, what I think it shows is that if you are unemployed your best choice in terms of what training to undertake in order to maximise your ability to gain employment is to undertake a certificate III level qualification.  It also seems even if you are employed and you want to improve your employment outcomes a certificate III is still the better option.  This becomes even more relevant when we start to consider the relative costs of certificate III vs Diploma programs.  Certificate III, negligible cost to participant due to direct government funding arrangements versus up to $20,000 debt through government study assistance for a diploma.

It seems to me, and this has been my position for a long time, when we look at the vocational education system in this country and how it relates to that group of people who have for whatever reasons not gone on to tertiary education, it seems that the best approach is to undertake lower level courses (certificate II and III) courses to maximise the opportunity of gaining employment and then whilst employed access higher level training qualifications to improve overall job position.  This use of the system seems to be supported in general (particularly in QLD) by the structure of government funding, where Certificate III level qualifications are heavily subsidised for people without qualifications, yet higher level (IV and V) qualifications require participants to already be employed in the sector they wish to study in.  Also given that gaining a higher level qualification first, rules out the possibility of individuals or employers being able to fund lower level qualifications, it really does seem to me to be the case that you are far better off, starting at a lower level of qualification and working your way through the system, than starting higher up the ladder and hoping for an employment outcome.

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VET vs University – A continuing Divide.

As some of you who have been reading my blog for a while will be aware I have always been troubled by the seeming divide which exists between VET and University education in this country.  This came up again recently when the very articulate Lauren Hollows  asked this wonderful question on Linkedin; “Why does it have to be VET or HE?”.  Quite early on in the life of this particular iteration of this blog, I presented a similar thought.  Lauren’s post and the ensuing discussion prompted me to think a little more about this problem and why it is that there seems to be a divide between Vocational Training and University Education.

Lets jump in the time machine and go back to the dim past when I was in the final years of high school and looking at what I was going to do with myself post secondary school.  The choices were pretty clear-cut back then, you left at year 10 and got a trade, you went on to year 12 and University or you just went and got a job. somewhere and to a large extent what we know now as the VET sector now was still a few years away.  This I think is still some of the problem today, a lot of people not involved in the industry, who are now parents etc saw this divide, you went to  TAFE to do a trade or you went to university and of course the unspoken thought was that the reason you left at year 10 and went and got a trade was that you weren’t going to get good enough results in 11 and 12 to get accepted into University.  Now whether or not that was ever true, the mindset was there and still is, people still view VET as a choice you make when you can’t get into university.

Let’s fast forward to today though, this is not the case anymore and hasn’t been the case for some time now, sure VET education can be seen as an alternative education pathway, but it is also a supplementary or complimentary pathway.  As a lot of the respondents to Lauren’s post said, myself included, a lot of people now have qualifications from both sectors, all of which provide them with different learnings and different skills and knowledge.  So why then do we still hear comments like “I have a degree why would I was my time getting a Certificate IV/diploma?”  We hear them because I think we have failed, all of us, the Government, the peak bodies, the providers to truly explain the post secondary education system in this country to people, and to explain it to people in such a way that makes sense to them and shows them the value of education regardless of what ‘sector’ that education comes from.

We have a single framework in this country for qualifications and we have had it since 1995.  The Australian Qualifications Framework outlines who the whole system works and what each level from Level 1 (Certificate I) to Level 10 (Doctoral Degrees) work and what the skills and knowledge at each level is.  I would hazard a guess however that very very few parents and student and probably not a lot of teachers and guidance officers were terribly aware of the content of the AQF and even fewer would understand how the system works and what all of it means and there in lies the problem.

What we need to do in this country is to embark on an education process, a process designed to explain to people simply and easily how the system works.  If we ever as a country truly want to have an engaged workforce built on ideals of lifelong learning, then we need to do this we need to this, we need to explain to people the choices that they have and how they fit together.  If we don’t there will always be a divide between the various educational sectors in this country and that would be a crying shame.

The AQF, Volume of Learning, Regulation and RTO’s

So as some of you are aware (some more than others) I went to the Brisbane AQF Implementation workshop today.

It moved pretty slowly but I had always expected that and then the presentation moved to Volume of Learning, and what it meant and its implications and things livened up into a quite rigorous discussion let by Tony Feagan, whom I am sure a lot of you know are issues with the delivery of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and what implications the statements around volume of Learning would have on stopping the very shoddy delivery and assessment of this qualification that goes on in some RTO’s.

I want to move away from that particular discussion however and look at something that I have to admit vexed me a little more about the whole discussion and situation.  It seems and correct me if I am wrong that the Industry Skills Councils, who are tasked to administer and develop the VET qualifications, should be writing the qualifications in such a manner that it if assessed properly, the length of time it would take someone to be able to be assessed as competent in the Qualification would meet the Volume of Learning rules.  Therefore an RTO who was delivering a Qualification in under the time set out in the Volume of Learning would need to show how and why it was that they were able to do that.

But on the other hand, and again correct me if I am wrong, if the RTO can show sufficient evidence to support the fact that that it has meet the assessment criteria for the unit, then there is nothing that the regulator can do about them being under the volume of learning.  Which seems to me to mean that the ball is firmly in the court of the Industry Skills Councils to get this right and to actually put some robust assessment criteria, such as as some quoted today, in one of the hospitality qualification the student has to prepare a dish 57 times, successfully using all of the skills in the unit of competency.  Does this mean that they might do things like state the minimum actual placement (not simulation) hours that someone doing an aged care or community services qualification would have to undertake?

The other thing that vexed me as the statement ‘well if you have signed up to be an RTO then it is your responsibility to abide by the rules not ASQA’s job to crack down on you’ now while this is correct and is in fact the role of a regulator it strikes me that there is a deeper issue here as well.  Both the VET and HE markets in Australia (as they are almost everywhere) are commercial competitive markets, with a whole range of ways, from Fee for service, to traineeships, to shall we say bulk funding which is to a large extent (and going to become more so in QLD) competitive and contestable.  So it stands to reason unless there are actual, enforceable consequences around not delivery nothing will actually change.

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