Rethinking Tertiary Education: Building on the work of Peter Noonan was recently released by Melbourne University Press. Edited by Peter Dawkins, Megan Lilly and Robert Pascoe it presents chapters on a range of issues that were close to Peter’s heart. Readers can purchase it in hard copy or in downloadable form.

The intent of the book is to “make a major contribution to the debate about the role that tertiary education needs to play in promoting Australia’s future economic prosperity and in enhancing social outcomes and greater equality of opportunity.”

It’s divided into 4 sections. The first gives us a snapshot of Peter and his influential work in the sector over many years as well as examining concerns over how the tertiary education system could work, and work better, to transform peoples’ lives. Much of this gets back to having greater ‘harmony’ between VET and higher education to create a more cohesive system where “the ability to transition from a VET qualification into higher education, or the other way around, should be quite seamless.”

The second section concerns qualifications, pathways and partnerships. Much of this draws on Peter’s work chairing the review of the AQF, and the reforms to the way the system works that could, and should, arise from it. VET in the secondary education sector and apprenticeships are also examined in this section of the book.

In a third section, the book looks at funding and regulation. Funding was something that Peter wrote quite a bit about in his later years when worked at the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University.

The final section of the book, ‘The way forward,’ makes suggestions about the tertiary system Australia needs. This is the chapter on which the remainder of this article will focus.

The way forward?

The chapter argues that “a new Australian compact about tertiary education is needed.” It requires

“a compact between state and federal governments, but more importantly it would engage and draw on employers, unions, educators, community organisations, public servants and innovators to realise a system that is truly capable of serving the needs and interests of the Australian community today and in the decades ahead.”

So, when the authors of this chapter thought about tertiary education, they suggested “we need to see it as not two separate systems but as one system made up of two sectors—vocational education and higher education, where the aim is “to have universally high-quality providers with great diversity.”

They argue for a tertiary system that is “bound together by a common architecture and common funding model that ensures high quality and greater connectedness between its parts, and more seamlessness in the pathways between its parts and with the school system. It would also have greater connectedness with industry.”

Students should be at the centre too, they suggest, with their needs met by the diversity of options on offer, as well as having “stronger pathways and partnerships, and greater transparency.” This, they believe, will enable students

“to navigate the system more easily and be able to more clearly demonstrate their skills and capabilities to their prospective employers. This, in turn, will enable the tertiary system to generate the skills that will be required for transforming the Australian economy of the future to achieve strong, inclusive and sustainable growth.”

A short postscript from Hugh Guthrie

I was lucky enough to know and work with Peter over quite a number of years, first meeting him when he was at the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) and finally when we were both working at Victoria University. Fortunately, the way to my office there was to go past his, and that led to a lot of deep and meaningful discussions with someone who had been at the forefront of thinking about VET and the broader tertiary sector and how they could be made better.

This book is a fitting tribute to someone who gave so much to Australian VET and the nation more broadly.

Hugh Guthrie