Voices across the VET sector call for more purposeful policy approaches to tertiary education as a whole

Our last newsletter reviewed an article by Peter Noonan which presses the case for fixing Australia’s tertiary education funding model so that the complementary strengths of VET and higher education are valued and preserved. (See, Is Australia’s VET Mojo Falling Away?, 18 July.)

A view from TAFE

On 17 March, just prior to finishing his decade-long term as CEO of TAFE Directors, Martin Riordan addressed the National Skills and Jobs Summit, held at Canberra Institute of Technology. His speech set out three principles oriented to a productive future for TAFE. On song with Noonan, the second principle is: ‘A seamless tertiary and vocational system, producing job-ready graduates and high-skilled workers. This is no easy principle to enact. It will entail constitutional horse-trading between the Commonwealth and the states/territories. But it is a mission critical principle for tertiary education, and an issue we’ve set to one side for too long. As Riordan put it:

‘The elephant in the room today is the failure or refusal to find solutions to the divide between Canberra funding universities and TAFEs and vocational education remaining a state and territory responsibility.’

Moving from lucky dip to seamless tertiary education system requires heavy policy lifting. It’s a weighty task we need to get to grips with. Resolving the impasse does not necessarily rely on reallocating constitutional powers and responsibilities, but it does rely on governments concluding firm agreements about them.

Building Australia’s stock of skills is important in its own right. But the arguments for an integrated tertiary sector go well beyond skills attainment. There are substantial improvements to individual life chances that go with access to training – equity and prosperity can go hand in hand. In addition, competitiveness, productivity and efficiency hinge on innovation and applied research.