VET is sparking  innovation in Australia

Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) was established in October 2016 as an advisory body to the Commonwealth Government. A key outcome of its work will be a strategic plan describing what Australia’s innovation, science and research system will look like in 2030. With that strategic direction as a guide, the plan will also present a roadmap of how to get there.

The ISA’s Performance review of the Australian innovation, science and research system 2016 (224 pages) analysis is that VET is already making a substantial contribution to innovation, and with appropriate support it can do much more.  There is a formal role for VET in our innovation system.

In acknowledging several persistent weaknesses in Australia’s innovation, science and research system, the performance review observes that ‘compared to other countries, Australia under-utilises vocational education and training.’ The report unpacks this assessment on pages 76-77, including offering the view that VET providers and people with VET qualifications

… are well placed to diffuse, share and implement innovation. Through their close connections with industry [they] are able to diffuse new ideas, technology and processes developed elsewhere. VET students often combine work experience and work-based learning (e.g. through apprenticeships), giving them a close and long-term connection with business.

Formally recognising VET’s role in the national innovation, science and research system would mark a significant change in perceptions about VET and what we should expect from the sector. The performance review isn’t shy about the realities – a formal role with new expectations comes at a cost:

There are few resources available to assist teachers to keep up with the latest technologies and innovations, partly due to budget constraints. This is in contrast with countries like Canada that have a dedicated applied research budget for VET providers.

Changing perceptions of VET’s innovation role

Changing perceptions is always a challenge. By and large, innovation has been ‘owned’ by industry, universities and research organisations. But in reality, VET has long been an active innovation player. We need to ‘name and claim’ what we’ve been doing and ready ourselves to do more.

Several 2016 newsletter articles dipped into VET’s innovation role. In July we wrote about TAFE Queensland’s new Centre for Applied Research and Innovation. In August we surveyed applied research capability in TAFE, and in October we considered VET’s potential to improve Australia’s lagging innovation performance. It seems likely there will be many further opportunities to dwell on the emerging role of VET in our national innovation, science and research system.