Our near neighbours are setting the pace on innovation in VET

Once upon a time, Australia’s VET system was regarded by many nations as world leader. As The Mitchell Institute’s Peter Noonan pointed out in a recent article,

‘Australia was seen as a leader and innovator, in raising the status of and participation in VET and in building industry leadership into the system at all levels, from program design to system governance.’

But Noonan’s article, ‘What Australia could learn from Hong Kong and Singapore about rebuilding VET’, suggests that to some extent we’ve lost our mojo. It may be time for Australia to look for good ideas among those nations who used to seek them from us. In pursuing a joined up tertiary education, for example, we might look at initiatives taken by Hong Kong’s Vocational Training Council (VTC). Today the VTC offers

‘… a comprehensive range of courses in areas of economic priority and for a broad range of learner cohorts and as an alternative to the still all-powerful pull of local and international universities.’

The VTC also maintains ‘an ongoing commitment to learning from international practice and to benchmarking student performance particularly through the International World Skills Competition.’ In Singapore, the Institutes of Technical Education

‘have been effectively rebuilt as major world-class education and training facilities with a strong focus on future skills (including sustainability), new technologies and innovation.’

While some of what we do is still highly regarded – such as our links between national competency standards and national qualifications – some of our near neighbours (and Noonan includes South Korea) have leapfrogged us.

Fixing Australia’s tertiary education funding model

In another article worthy of note, Noonan has also highlighted the urgency of getting Australia’s higher education and funding models into smarter alignment. In ‘Australian tertiary education cannot flourish without effective vocational education,’ he makes a straightforward observation:

The Australian population is expanding, so sustained growth in tertiary education will be required simply to maintain participation rates, never mind expand them. The higher education sector cannot continue to be the only source of growth without overburdening universities and further diminishing VET.

Drawing on Mitchell Institute work, Noonan points out to the funding conundrum that needs to be resolved: ‘public spending on VET has fallen by 5 per cent since 2005, while it has increased by 45 per cent in higher education.’