Blending vocational and higher education learnings
Increasingly, successful careers depend on higher levels of knowledge and skills. The dichotomy of either vocational education or higher education does not reflect the realities of the workforce or the society the sectors serve.
The challenge is twofold. Employers are increasingly seeking vocational education and training (VET) prepared workers with a broader set of capabilities and transferable skills, like critical thinking. At the same time, employers respect the knowledge level of university graduates but are seeking additional technical and applied skills from them.
Many employers need workers with knowledge and skills that blend vocational and higher education learnings.
However, the fundamental differences of approach between vocational education and higher education in learning and recognition philosophies also hinders learning progression and career advancement. The cumbersome processes to obtain recognition and credit between sectors act as an unnecessary barrier for people seeking to advance their careers.
There are instances of strong connection and collaboration, but the priority is for this to be systemic.
Qualifications that blend the best of both sectors – the technical competence and applied skills of the VET sector and the knowledge generation and transfer and analytical capabilities of higher education – will be highly valued. This includes a system that also makes it easy for higher education graduates to top up their qualifications with job-specific skills acquired through VET.
For industry, this means a modern worker who possesses the desired blend of conceptual knowledge and practical skills. For the workforce, this opens possibilities for more job opportunities and mobility of skilled workers that characterises healthy labour markets.
The Victorian Skills Plan 2022 highlighted the importance of a better-connected skills system to drive improved outcomes in skills and outlined several actions in response. These remain, but as the concept of tertiary education is undoubtedly open for discussion across governments, more can be done.
Working towards an integrated post-secondary school system in Victoria
- Streamline qualification development for Victorian TAFE Network providers.
- Less regulatory burden for Victorian TAFE Network providers.
- Access to Commonwealth higher education funding for Victorian TAFE Network providers.
- Seamless partnerships between VET providers and universities.
The Australian Universities Accord Panel estimates that by 2050, Australia will require a workforce-wide higher education attainment rate of 55%. The first step is increasing attainment levels for 25 to 34 year-olds which translates to 1.2 million higher education students in 2035 and 1.8 million by 2050. Compared to 2021, this is a 33% increase in enrolments by 2035 and 55% by 2050.
The Victorian TAFE Network facilitates local access to education opportunities and can contribute substantially to increasing these attainment levels, especially where university capacity for growth is constrained, or in regional areas without universities. Many Victorian TAFE Network providers already offer higher education programs, most in response to industry demand and as structured pathways for VET-prepared workers.
There needs to be less regulatory burden, streamlined qualification development, changes to funding arrangements and more partnerships between VET and higher education to enable the Victorian TAFE Network to effectively play a role.