A recent series of publications from the Productivity Commission’s 5-year productivity inquiry have a bit to say about VET and tertiary education more generally.

The various publications – 9 volumes in fact – cover a range of areas, but the ones most relevant to VDC News readers are within volume 8, entitled ‘From learning to growth,’ which “recognises the importance that quality education and training systems have for the skills and adaptability of our workforce.” This volume is supported by a  fact sheet concerned with tertiary education. Also of interest to readers will be the consolidated ‘Recommendations and reform directives’ the Commission proposes.

From learning to growth

Volume 8’s 4 chapters cover the value of human capital, building productivity in schools, investing in future skills needs, and boosting the learning outcomes for tertiary students. Let’s take a look at the last of these four. This chapter is largely focused on higher education and the quality of its teaching. If that’s your bag it’s probably worth a look.

The Commission’s paper holds out hope for the current VET and Skills reform process noting that:

“The recent Skills Reform measures are welcome and necessary steps in transforming the VET sector so that it is better able to teach, recognise and develop adaptive skills. These reform measures are wide ranging, and if successfully implemented, have the potential to fundamentally re-shape the VET sector. The measures include changing the existing qualification framework and updating training package content.”

However, the overly prescriptive and ‘backwards looking’ nature of CBT was noted by the Commission. Encouragingly, it also noted the need to support the VET workforce. It points to “the greater ambitions and sophistication of the new VET system” requiring further investment in VET workforce capability across a wide range of delivery modes but asks whether VET teachers have sufficient skills. They note the trade-off between having an adequate supply of VET teachers with requiring higher level teaching qualifications. Noting the importance of assessment, the paper maintains that:

“As the VET assessment system evolves beyond CBT to incorporate independent and proficiency-based assessment, the VET workforce will need to access appropriately designed and funded professional development opportunities to implement these new assessment methods successfully. In light of this, the Australian Government should fund extra training and development programs for VET trainers and assessors so they can adequately perform independent and proficiency-based assessment.”

This seems to be only part of what is needed to address the issue of developing a capable VET teaching workforce, with more attention needing to be given to enabling teachers to be innovative and flexible in their disciplines and to develop in their students the broad range of competencies they need both now and into the future.

A few of the key recommendations

The Productivity Commission is recommending that access for Government loans should expand to more Diploma and Advanced Diploma level courses and that loan fee arrangements should also be equalised across the tertiary sector (Recommendation 8.7). In addition, there should be more support for lifelong learning (Recommendation 8.8).

There should also be support, they recommend, for a responsive VET sector (Recommendation 8.15) and improved VET teaching, pathways and partnerships (Recommendation 8.16)