The first two ‘essays’ explain the impact and influence of these documents and have just been published. Both have a policy focus.
The landmark reports
These start with the Wright Report on apprenticeships, through to Kangan in 1974, on to a range of other reports until we arrive with a series produced in the late 1980s and early 90s under the auspices of the Hon. John Dawkins. Other names are prominent too: Kirby on labour market programs, Karmel on quality, Deveson on the costs of award restructuring, Finn on young peoples’ participation in post-compulsory education and training, Mayer on key competencies, Carmichael on a new competency-based vocational certificate training system, Hilmer on the national competition policy, Fitzgerald on competitive skills for Australians and Australian enterprises, Karpin – entitled “Enterprising Nation” and Marshman on the barriers to apprentices’ employment. More recently we have seen the review of tertiary education chaired by Denise Bradley with the most recent ones, around 2009-10, authored by Skills Australia.
The first, by veteran VET policy maker turned academic Dr. Robin Ryan, is a paper entitled “Landmarks in the governance and policy frameworks of Australian VET.” In it, he contrasts two value systems for the sector: “one narrow and instrumental, the other broader, focused on social justice and individual self-development.”
This has posed an issue for what, exactly, VET’s mission is, and – as he points out:
“The difficulties successive governments have faced in developing a coherent future direction for the VET sector can plausibly be argued to derive from a failure to face up to fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the sector. Many of these derive from the perennially unresolved ‘training or education’ dichotomy.”
Getting the balance right between a market-based approach to VET with competing public and private provision and VET meeting its community service obligations can also be an issue too. So, he thinks that:
“The need for a clear definition of the role of the public provider still awaits attention, best done as a joint federal-State undertaking.”
A final issue his essay raises is the “the integration of higher and vocational education into a coherent tertiary education system.” He argues that while this issue “requires complex funding and jurisdictional governance decisions”, he cannot see “why one group of Australian post-school students should be treated so differently from another.” Thus, he sees a confused policy mix in the tertiary space at present. Key questions for policy makers from his perspective are to ask what is VET for?’ and more specifically, Too, to what extent is VET vocational’?
The second essay is by Don Zoellner, a Northern Territory academic and member of the Australian Industry Skills Commission. It is entitled “The place of VET in the education and employment policy landscape.” He suggests that the place of VET in the policy landscape has three acts: act 1 in the pre-1970s is characterised by “multiplicity and difference.” Act 2 sees VET in a more national focus, and characterised by a ‘golden age’ from 1975 to 1982. Act 3, from the mid-1980s on, sees VET in terms of “programs, governance and competition.”
He argues that:
“all three acts have produced remarkably similar outcomes characterised by deficiencies in student numbers, resources and esteem, in spite of having very different writers and scripts, [and this] suggests that there are a variety of other public policy matters impacting upon the place of VET.”
So, what of Act 4? Maybe more of the same? Don feels that:
“With the latest national VET review (Joyce) focused upon the technical performances of the various actors in the system, it seems unlikely that an act four is … in favour of revisiting some previously enacted scenes in an effort to improve the performances of key actors by giving them slightly modified roles and scripts. Those in the audience should prepare to be treated to an encore and reprises.”