Community Education in Australia

Australia’s Adult and Community Education Sector in Perspective

According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), there are almost 400 not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) training providers in Australia, the majority of them located in Victoria and New South Wales.

Of the 3.9 million Australian vocational education and training (VET) students enrolled in 2020, 386,400 (9.8% of the total) studied with a not-for-profit ACE provider. This was a substantial decrease of 21% (102,700 students) on the previous year – 2019, the largest decrease in recent history. Much of the drop in total students appears to be due to the COVID-19 impact of less learning engagement by vulnerable and disadvantaged students. CCA notes that this is a worrying trend that needs to be addressed urgently as it shows that many of the most needy learners are likely to be missing out in important skills development.

In addition to community providers, Australian VET students enrolled in TAFE with 20.1% of the total (792,700 students – up by 13,500 from 2019); private for-profit providers with 71.9% of the total (2.8 million students, down 200,000), university providers with 1.8% (75,100 students – down 2,500); school providers with 2.8% (111,000 students – down 3,000); and enterprise providers with 2.4% (95,600 students, down 28,800). (Totals add to more than 100% as students may have enrolled in training with multiple provider types.)

In addition to the 400+ ACE providers which deliver accredited and pre-accredited vocational education and training, more than 2000 other ACE providers offer personal interest learning and other courses, including adult basic education in language, literacy, numeracy, digital and other foundation skills (see Adult Learning Australia, Adult Community Education Australian Environmental Scan 2020).

VET Students who enrol with community education providers consistently show the greatest increase into employment of any provider type: 16.8% of community education VET training graduates moved from unemployment to employment in 2018 as a result of their training, compared to 10.1% of TAFE graduates (also the national average), 9.5% of private for-profit training providers, and 7.9% of university VET providers. Compared to other VET provider types, community education graduates were also the most satisfied with assessment, the most satisfied with the overall quality of training and the most willing to recommend their training. Of those employed after training, more community education graduates found the training relevant to their current job and received at least one job-related benefit (source: NCVER VET Student Outcomes 2019 report, December 2019).

CCA’s member adult and community education providers have the following traits:

  • Learning is part of their core business, and is place-based or locally focussed.
  • They offer inclusive learning environments and practices.
  • They provide opportunities for engagement/re-engagement in community life, learning and work through the delivery of programs and activities.
  • They are not-for-profit, community-based and community governed through volunteer boards.
  • They provide formal, non-formal and informal learning opportunities, including foundation skills learning.
  • They provide opportunity for engagement in accredited VET modules or qualifications, either independently or in partnership with another training provider.
  • They provide skills that enable health and wellbeing, engagement in recreational pursuits and increased civic participation as well as skills for work.

(Source: Adult and Community Education in Australia, Adult Learning Australia)

History of Australian Adult and Community Education

Australian community education providers have long played an important role in adult education. Some CCA members have served their communities since 1913, the year Australian Workers Education Associations (WEAs) were established: Newcastle (WEA Hunter, now Atwea College) and Wollongong (WEA Illawarra) operate as part of a century-long continuous history.

The tradition of Australian adult and community education extends back to 1833 with the establishment of the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts. In 1864, NSW evening colleges commenced, codified in 1880 with the NSW Public Instruction Act under then Premier Sir Henry Parkes. That Act established Evening Public Schools (PDF), “to instruct persons who may not have received the advantages of primary education”. Australian community education providers maintain this tradition with their emphasis on “foundation skills” – language, literacy, numeracy and employability skills.

It’s not just the WEAs: other CCA members show many decades of continuous history. Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Community College was founded in 1925; Sydney Community College dates to 1945; Northern Beaches and Mosman College dates to 1949; Macquarie Community College to 1950; City East College and Nepean Community College to 1952; ACE Community Colleges, Albury Wodonga Community College, ET Australia, St George Sutherland Community College and Western Riverina Community College to the 1970s; Tuggerah Lakes Community College, North Coast Community College and New England Community College all to 1981; Riverina Community College and Central Coast Community College to 1982; VERTO (originally Central West Community College) and Mid North Coast Community College to 1983; Tamworth Community College to 1984; Tomaree Community College to 1985; and The Parramatta College and Kiama Community College to 1986.

CCA is proud represent such an historic sector of Australian education, with providers that have adapted to economic, social and educational changes over many years, and continue to serve their communities with distinction.

Acknowledgement of Country
Community Colleges Australia acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of our land, Australia. CCA acknowledges that our office is located on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.