Community Education in Australia

Australia’s Adult and Community Education Sector in Perspective

The number of Australian adult and community education (ACE) students rebounded by 15.2% in 2021 from a pandemic-impacted low in 2020, according to data from the NCVER. ACE “Total VET” student numbers increased from 390,185 in 2020 to 449,500 in 2021.

In 2021, 4.3 million students were enrolled in nationally recognised vocational education and training (VET), an increase of 9.0% compared with 2020. In 2021, 3,186,795 students (74.1%) enrolled at private training providers, 778,300 (18.1%) at TAFE institutes, 449,500 (10.5%) at community education (ACE) providers, 114,100 (2.7%) at schools, 107,000 (2.5%) at enterprise providers and 75,600 (1.8%) at universities. Read more about the data here.

ACE Students by State and Territory in 2021

State/Territory 2019 2020 2021 Change 2020 to 2021 (%) National ACE total 2021 (%)
New South Wales 206,940 167,100 168,835 1 37.6
Victoria 84,610 55,955 78,085 39.5 17.4
Queensland 42,380 34,435 37,510 8.9 8.3
South Australia 49,545 38,235 46,760 22.3 10.4
Western Australia 84,895 77,530 84,415 8.9 18.8
Tasmania 4,250 3,845 20,545 534.3 4.6
Northern Territory 9,105 8,030 9,535 18.7 2.1
Australian Capital Territory 8,935 5,235 4,290 -18 1
Offshore 115 205 225 9.8 -
Totals 490,345 390,185 449,515 15.20% 100%


Source: NCVER 2022, Total VET Students and Courses 2021: students DataBuilder

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).

Australian adult and community education providers have achieved the best results in bringing students from unemployment into employment, according to 2022 student outcomes data released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER). ACE providers have shown the greatest increase of adult students employed after training, compared to other vocational education and training (VET) providers. Nationally ACE providers excelled, with a 16.1% increase, compared to 12.6% for TAFE, 10.5% for private for-profit providers and a national average of 11.7%. Read more about ACE 2022 student outcomes here.

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.