Over the past fortnight, we have seen another surge in mainstream media coverage of Australia’s education sector, led in particular by the Mitchell Institute’s latest report on school-industry partnerships, and closely followed by KPMG who called for the Government to take over TAFE and vocational education.
A key theme that has run through both the current and previous news cycles is that Australia’s post-school education landscape is a market divided – it’s essentially a case of universities vs VET. What has been interesting of late, however, is that while there is an historical ‘them vs us’ spectre hanging over the sector, the people working in the industry do not share this view. In fact, there is ever increasing support for an integrated education system (both secondary and tertiary) that utilises the best of both the university and VET model.
In an address to the 3rd Annual Graduate Employment Outcomes & Industry Partnerships Forum, held in Sydney at the end of July, Group of Eight Chief Executive, Vicki Thomson, acknowledged the need to “stop the pressure on young people which, especially since the start of the demand driven system, has made them feel they are a nobody if they don’t undertake a university degree the moment they finish school.”
What makes this statement so poignant for Australia’s vocational education sector is that it was delivered on behalf of eight of our leading universities (the Go8). As further evidence of this shift in attitude, Thomson’s speech itself was entitled: “We are a poorer nation if we do not see the wisdom in valuing our entire post-secondary system.” Thomson went on to say she and the Go8 “strongly champion” a government-led, holistic review of the post-secondary education system. (Read the full transcript here.)
The Go8 is, of course, not the only industry body to throw it’s support behind a review of the education system in relation to the way it prepares our young people for work. Earlier this year, Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, called for a broader discussion into how the skills students learn in school could be applied to real life when they graduate.
A system review has also been recommended by the Mitchell Institute, with the release of the afore mentioned report. The Mitchell Institute has called for less talk and more action when it comes to a specific area of the education system – school-industry partnerships. Their report found that these partnerships play a vital role in assisting students transition into real-world jobs; it also noted that these partnerships have been on the policy agenda for years, but they are still not common practice in Australian schools.
It may seem as though I’m addressing two different issues here, in terms of skills-based learning in schools and tertiary education, but the fact of the matter is, without VET providers neither the Go8’s desire for a more balanced post-school education system, or the Mitchell Institute’s call for increased school-industry partnerships can be realised.
If the leaders of our universities are crying out for investment in their ‘opposition’ then surely it’s time our politicians took the hint and dropped the biased approach that has been applied to education funding and systems for more than two decades. And if the only way that our political leaders will move on addressing the depletion of the VET sector is by following the recommendations of a review then so be it – let’s make this much needed review a reality.