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Vocational education is the 'weakling' of Australia's education system

Financial Review (online), 28 August 2016 - A new report warns that vocational education is the "weakling" of Australian education, under threat from student exploitation, falling enrolments at government-funded providers, poor regulation and uncertainty about its future.

The federal and state governments should do a comprehensive national review of vocational education and training (VET) says the report, VET: Securing Skills for Growth, from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

The review should include looking at how vocational education can better integrate with higher education, the report said.

It said that governments needed to act because the "national partnership" agreement through which the federal government gives funding to states for vocational education ends in the middle of next year.

Last year the number of vocational education students funded by government fell by 12 per cent compared to 2014.

The report blames a "regulatory oversight" and "poor decision-making" for the VET FEE-HELP student loan scandal which has damaged the reputation of private vocational providers, even though only a relatively small number of them are to blame for exploiting students and government funding.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham will soon announce reforms to VET FEE-HELP – a loan scheme similar to HECS – which allowed dodgy education providers to be paid up front for courses which were delivered badly, even if students never finished them.

The report said it was important that the government's changes didn't restrict competition in vocational education.

It urged a "risk-based" approach to regulation, with more information available to students so they could make informed decisions.

The report said that even though about 4 million students a year are in the vocational system, its importance is not generally recognised 

"Despite the size of the sector, there does not appear to be much recognition of the contribution of VET in skilling Australia through its strong industry links and its record in providing job-ready graduates," it says.

"Worse still, there is an implicit assumption in the policy landscape that it is primarily the role of higher education to meet Australia's skills needs."

It said that many jobs which are expected to survive the growth in automation – such as childcare, fitness training and occupational therapy – are taught in vocational colleges.

But the report also urged that vocational education should go beyond narrow competency-based training and give students a broader range of skills – such as creativity, social intelligence, patience, critical thinking and resilience – which equip them for the jobs of the future. 

Meanwhile the peak body for private vocational education, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, has responded to the VET FEE-HELP scandal by setting up an industry accreditation system for private colleges.

ACPET chief executive Rod Camm said that colleges would be independently reviewed against ACPET's Code of Ethics as well as other standards for marketing and recruitment, enrolment and orientation, participation and progression, student support and teaching quality. Those which passed would receive the ACPET Quality Endorsement.

"Only those providers who can demonstrate consistent delivery of high quality service, support and outcomes will become ACPET Quality Endorsed," Mr Camm said.

Source: http://www.afr.com/leadership/vocational-education-is-the-weakling-of-australias-education-system-20160826-gr27vo

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