It's very timely to review the post-compulsory education and training sector in Australia. At present we have three very separate sectors – secondary schools, vocational educational and training, and higher education – with limited ability to use credit from one sector to another. We need consistency across the tertiary education sector in course selection, navigating entry, fees and credit transfer. For the Monash Commission to identify opportunities for integration in 2018 will be extremely useful as governments strive to improve the system.
We need a vision that puts the client, the customer, the business and the student at the forefront of our work. At the moment all the sectors have an element of being driven by what they can “supply”. It’s what’s easier and cheaper.
If we put the students’ needs first, we would have a tertiary sector with entry and exit points able to be easily navigated.
I want to see the highest-quality education and training available to all. I want to see support for those not previously able to access education and training, and a fee regime that's equitable and consistent across the sectors.
Most parents’ aspiration for their children is a university education, despite problems with completion rates. We need to better match education and training to individual needs, and communicate with the wider public. We need to recognise that the sectors are not linear. Individuals don’t always go from school to vocational education and training and then to university. In VET, there are many students who have been to university and then decided to undertake vocational education and training to get a different type of skill set. Most people will have many jobs in their working life. It’s possible to get one skill, or one qualification in one area of learning, from one of the sectors – but the future will demand constant upskilling across the whole tertiary sector.
After I finished my secondary education, I went to TAFE for six weeks to learn secretarial studies, and then studied for an arts degree and later a master's in education. I became a teacher in secondary schools and then a TAFE teacher.
In the '90s I joined ANTA [the Australian National Training Authority], which had the goal of establishing a consistent national tertiary system. More recently I was a member of the Board of Skills Australia, which again was focused on national consistency across the tertiary sector and ensuring that Australia had the workforce it needed into the future. The Monash Commission in its review of the tertiary sector has an opportunity to build on the work that has gone before, and position Australia for the future.
A discussion about the quality of vocational education and training in schools, and the quality of some VET providers is currently missing in discussions about the post-compulsory sector.
We’re also not talking enough about the difference between what you pay to go to university and what you pay to study a vocational education and training course, and how it’s financed. Loan schemes in vocational education and training are not as attractive as those in higher education, and that needs to change. Levelling the playing field on the issue of funding would send a clear message. While we have the current loan systems, the VET sector is at a disadvantage. How effective would it be for students to make decisions based on what the student or client wants to study, rather than from the perspective of ‘How much is it going to cost me and how do I have to pay it back?’.
The one thing we could change is the pathways between the sectors. The Commission has an opportunity to achieve integration by finding a common avenue between the school, VET and higher education sectors. Education and training is not linear. The perception that you go to school, then TAFE and then university has to be tackled. Many TAFE students are mature-age. They’ve been somewhere else after school – perhaps employment, or they may have gone to university and realised it’s not for them. Many university students are also often mature-age. In general we have to rethink our perceptions about each sector being separate.
We need to be clear about what our vision is and then ponder what the structure should look like, and if the funding is fit for purpose.
The primary goal of the Commission is to establish a vision for post-compulsory education – establishing an integrated system, for example. In the '90s, ANTA was given a significant opportunity to establish a national vision and national consistency across the sectors. Credit transfer was seen as important; the AQF was also an important innovation. I don’t think we have that national vision currently. This is not a criticism of government, but the idea of an integrated tertiary sector doesn't seem to have the same imperative. ANTA created a glorious window of opportunity, but it didn’t succeed because the states couldn't agree. And as long as that’s the situation, we’re not going to have healthy skills acquisition and a resulting healthy economy. Australia, in terms of population, is too small to have lack of credit transfer across states or between schools and VET, between VET and universities, between schools and universities.
Just the fact that there’s a conversation about the tertiary sector is important. But also, with upcoming state and federal elections, there’s an opportunity to influence policy. I’m very pleased to be a part of that opportunity to make a difference. I look forward to the three areas being brought together and sorting through a range of internecine battles that have been around since I’ve been around – and that’s a while. I’d like to see those battles off the table, and a more positive outlook of how we can achieve integration.