March 2021 saw the release of David Gonski’s and Peter Shergold’s report on VET in NSW.

Entitled ‘In the same sentence: Bringing higher and vocational education together’ it proposes – amongst other things – the development of a new type of tertiary institution.

The task and the challenges

Gonski and Shergold were asked to “provide advice on how the state’s VET system could best address ongoing and emerging skills shortages, paying particular regard to its quality, efficiency and structural complexity.” They were also asked to look at how to integrate secondary, vocational and higher education learning opportunities better as well as “how to re-imagine industry engagement and how to improve career advice to support lifelong learning.” All that covers a lot of ground, so what were the challenges to VET they identified?

First, they point out that uptake of VET is declining and “there has been a significant shift in student numbers from vocational to higher education.” In addition, “large numbers of those undertaking tertiary education either fail to complete their qualification or take many years to do so” and, as they suggest, “while a wide range of VET courses are on offer, many are not attractive to students.” VET has a negative image in NSW schools, and funding arrangements are also biased against VET. Finally, they reported employers are less satisfied with VET’s quality, and careers advice, guidance and support are inadequate. And, we suspect none of the above is news to regular readers of VDC News!

What does this new form of institution look like?

The report’s authors feel that there is an increasingly outdated distinction between higher and vocational education. So, what about creating a new type of tertiary institution? Their proposed Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) model will have strong industry input and partnerships and will also:

“deliver fully integrated theoretical and practical employability skills, provided through a number of constituent colleges, with curriculums designed in collaboration with industry and focused on the state’s emerging labour market needs.”

They don’t see the IAT as a ‘super TAFE’ or a dual sector institution. Its distinguishing feature will be flexible and integrated courses teaching transferable skills. It will use a student- centred approach, allowing students to be prepared for the workplace and “gain a breadth of professional, trade, managerial and entrepreneurial skills that equip them to find employment, build their careers and, where appropriate, establish businesses.”

Consolidated curricula will be used to help teach these skills. They want the IAT to produce T-shaped graduates who combine “deep exposure to a practical work-oriented discipline (the vertical axis)” while also being helped to develop and evidence a breadth of employability skills in workplace literacy, generic employability competencies and positive character attributes (the horizontal axis).”

It will be piloted at the proposed TAFE Centres of Excellence at Meadowbank and Kingswood. Delivery will involve partnerships between TAFE, universities and industry.

Another focus is VET in schools

The authors propose improving the breadth and quality of vocational education in NSW high schools by “ensuring practical course offerings, vocational learning, work exploration and career education are available to all students [and] increasing the number of selected vocational courses that can be incorporated in the calculation of the ATAR. They also suggest “providing more opportunities for externally delivered VET where that is in the best interests of the student [and also] enhancing the number of school-based apprentices and trainees.”

They, like other before them, also had a go at the quality of careers advice.

The NSW Government’s response

The government has accepted all five recommendations Gonski and Shergold made. They have committed to establishing the NSW Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), establishing Careers NSW “to make lifelong careers information, advice and professional career guidance accessible to students, trainees and employees”, improving the quality of vocational education in high schools, consulting with industry experts on VET course curriculums and finally, advocating for VET student loans, similar to the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), to be expanded to include Certificates III and IV.

You can read the Government’s media release here.