Doyen VET researcher Gerald Burke has produced a paper for the VET Knowledge Bank managed as part of the VOCEDPlus Research database.
He looks at the funding of the VET sector from 1970 until 2020. But the paper is so much more than that. It looks at how funding has changed in the context of how the sector has developed, evolved and changed in its focus.
This paper is part of the VOCEDPlus Landmark series. At present, they cover the place of VET, its governance and policy, the VET workforce, skills and knowledge, training and assessment and VET Research. Other titles are in development.
To those of us who have been in VET a long time, Gerald’s paper not only provides an excellent overview of the development of Australia’s VET system but also paints a clear picture of its current state. Naturally, it focuses on the funding but, importantly, points out the extent to which funding shapes the sector’s nature. It also clearly shows that VET, relatively, has not done all that well in terms of its funding in comparison with other education sectors – although the notable exception was the 1970s and the first half of the 80s. There was also a significant growth in VET student numbers, particularly from the mid 70s through to 2000.
Thus, it is an excellent historical account of the way VET has developed, albeit through a funding lens.
Changes in the focus of VET
Kangan’s pivotal 1974 report placed the emphasis on promoting lifelong learning and “argued for unrestricted access for adults and broader education as well as relevance to employment.” The Dawkins reform of the late 1980s and early 90s placed “stress on employment and initiated market competition and employer determined competency-based training.” Thus VET’s ‘philosophy’ and policy focus has switched to an approach that:
“…stressed the role of employers and of market competition, supported by the development of a national vocational system with qualifications based on occupational competencies. Competition, it was argued, would promote efficiency in the production of what employers and students wanted.”
Thus, there was a move towards ‘user choice’. However, and fortunately, there has always been an emphasis on “the needs of the less advantaged.”
Funded entitlement schemes in the mid 2000s were found by Burke and most others to be problematic and led to considerable reputational damage for VET. We now have fee-free courses through public VET providers, however, and a revised system of student loans (VET Student Loans) replaced the failed and much rorted VET FEE-HELP scheme.
Some bigger picture implications and observations
Towards the end of the paper Gerald makes a few observations which are worth reflecting on. The first relates to quality and the extent to which the rorting of the system and the fast expansion and contracting of available funding has had on both “the teachers employed and the quality of the courses delivered.” In addition, he argues that the quality indicators used at present don’t ‘cut the mustard’ and don’t reflect the actual quality of what VET is delivering.
Second, the employment/occupational focus may not be the right way to think about things as there is not a strong link between the jobs people do post training and the occupation they were trained for (except in the trades). Maybe, this suggests a move back to a more ‘Kanganesque’ view of what VET should be about: that is providing a broader education but also with a focus on employment?
And finally, there is a lot of policy and funding focus on apprentices and trainees, but he suggests “the fairness and effectiveness of this support needs much more attention” as we need to make sure that VET is contributing as effectively as possible to the outcomes for those in equity groups.