The first publication of the new Mackenzie Research Institute at Holmesglen TAFE is a discussion paper on the reform of Australian tertiary education. It was released last year.

Why is it relevant?

It’s relevant because we have had a number of reviews of tertiary education in general and VET in particular in the last wee while. Last year the Joyce Review was released and there is presently a review of VET in Victoria being undertaken by Jenny Macklin. All of these have been highlighted in VDC News.

If that was not enough we have just had the review of the Australian Qualifications Framework and a ‘quick fire’ review of ASQA is under way coupled with the introduction of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019. Finally, the Productivity Commission is due to release an interim report on the directions of Commonwealth-state and territory joint action on VET in late March following the issues paper it released last November. The last edition of VDC News included an article on this work.

So much for why it might be relevant, what does Bruce Mackenzie’s paper propose?

What’s proposed?

The paper notes the need for a tertiary education system that is “accessible, inclusive, efficient, effective and forward looking” to cope with the demands placed on it by Industry 4.0 and other changes and pressures both short and longer term.

Uncapping higher education places and lowering entrance requirements has had unintended consequences, including increasing enrolment patterns in disciplines not in skills shortage and placing pressure on VET enrolments in areas of real economic need. Simply, too few are doing VET courses in these areas. The current tertiary education arrangements have also led to a hollowing out of the intermediate skills workforce in Australia and an oversupply of higher education graduates in some fields, he feels.

The paper maintains that pathways between the sectors do not work as well as they should, either. Finally, the ‘training market policies’ imposed on VET have also largely failed, Mackenzie contends. VET’s sheer complexity and its shared Commonwealth and state funding arrangements have not helped either.

There is also a strong resistance to significant change in some quarters, he maintains. So, what will make things better?

First, tinkering won’t work, he says.

Mackenzie believes we need to work towards a more balanced parity of esteem between VET and higher education. In that, he and governments are agreed. He also believes an important starting point is upper-secondary education. This would be done, in his view:

“By incorporating Certificates I to III into a more practical technical option as part of upper secondary education, it would mean that jurisdictional and financial responsibility would rest with state governments.”

He suggests that two streams of upper secondary education are needed:  a technical stream and an academic stream.

He also suggests that Certificate IV qualifications and above should become a Commonwealth responsibility, with these qualifications supported through income contingent loans. Professional universities should be created, and TAFEs could be the places where such provision could start, he believes.

Finally, training packages need reform as they are seen “as too narrow for a digital age and of dubious quality.”

A short supplementary paper provides a summary of the major points of the discussion paper.