Grattan Institute reports highlight the ups and downs of VET

A major report from the Australian think tank, Grattan Institute, has highlighted the ups and downs of Australian vocational education and training (VET).

The timely report, entitled Risks and rewards: when is vocational education a good alternative to higher education?, concludes that:

“Some university students with low school results would be better off doing vocational education…. Vocational diplomas in construction, engineering, and commerce typically lead to higher lifetime incomes than many low-ATAR university graduates are likely to earn… especially for low-ATAR men…. But vocational education alternatives for women are less attractive… [as] Few women enrol in vocational education engineering, and those who do often have poor career and earnings outcomes.”

Report co-author Andrew Norton has gone further in his article in The Australian (“Rewards of VET need to be better known”, 14 August 2019), making the following points:

  • “History suggests [free TAFE] policies will not be stable. Overall funding policy remains biased against vocational education. The commonwealth, the states and the territories all have a role in subsidising vocational education courses. Despite calls for national consistency agreement is difficult.
  • “The funding cuts of recent years are unlikely to be fully reversed in the near term.
  • “The VET FEE-HELP debacle has made the commonwealth a cautious, and probably overcautious, vocational education lender.
  • “For low ATAR students who can get into vocational or higher education, financial factors could sway their choice. If higher education offers no upfront fees and vocational education does not, nobody could blame a student for choosing a university course — even if it is not their best option for future employment.
  • “The commonwealth’s renewed interest in vocational education will probably provide some benefits. But we are far from policies that support students in equitable ways across the tertiary education system.”

Community Colleges Australia CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, comments:

“In the last week, through COAG Australia has made a few good strides towards revisioning Australia’s VET system and lifting its focus to achieve equality in post-secondary education, along with universities. Unless and until funding improves, however, VET will continue to languish.

“Norton makes the point that the Australian Government is probably still ‘gun shy’ after the major abuses suffered by the VET FEE-HELP program. The limited funding available and outlaid on the VET Student Loans program shows that we have a long way to go before we see a significant Commonwealth funding commitment.

“It is important that foundational skills – basic language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) – be included in the top-line discussions on VET. Most students with LLN needs are not short term candidates for university. This is an area where Australia’s not-for-profit community education providers have an out-sized role.”

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