For students to build on one type of post-school qualification with another, two factors tend to be in play – information and encouragement.
Have only one of these ingredients, and these transitions become less likely – and less common.
But when both work together, you see more students making the leap – and making a success of it.
As demand for post-school qualifications continues to grow across our economy, we need student transitions within and across post-school education to be as easy and logical as possible.
That’s core to the mission of Australia’s dual sector universities, who offer both higher and vocational education courses under the one institutional roof.
But it’s also a focus for the breadth of universities across the nation. Many have numerous partnership and pathways agreements with local VET providers to help students add qualifications from one system on top of another.
Why is this important?
Because increasingly students and employees may need elements of skills and knowledge attained from both streams of post-school education.
In 2017, there were just over a million Australian students enrolled in our university system, and just over four million in a vocational education or training course – including short courses.
We know there are a significant number of students finding their way between both systems.
In the three years to 2017, around 12 per cent of first-year university students were admitted into their degree based on their prior study in a VET award course – either a complete qualification or units of study.
Around nine per cent of students who enrolled in a vocational education or training course already had a bachelor’s degree or higher – and were looking to add another skill or element to that base.
These transitions are great examples of how we ensure lifelong learning is more than a slogan.
And credit recognition for prior learning helps to enable successful transitions.
Data gathered by Universities Australia this year shows the scale of these foundations.
It told us that at Charles Sturt University last year, one in six students came to university to build on a prior VET qualification.
And it showed the University of Newcastle has more than 200 agreements with more than 20 regional VET providers.
My own State of Victoria is home to four of the nation’s six dual-sector universities – where seamless transitions between vocational to higher education are practiced and familiar territory.
Government data tells us 90 per cent of new jobs in the five years to 2023 will require either higher education or vocational education – or a mix of both.
As part of its remit, the recent final report of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) review looked at the national framework through the lens of student transitions.
It set out to streamline qualifications, improve pathways and credit arrangements, and clarify the skills, knowledge and capabilities in university, vocational and professional qualifications.
Implementing these tenets is no easy task; however, the AQF review gives us a sound blueprint.
For our part, the university sector is keen to seize opportunities to forge new connections – and deepen existing ones – with local vocational providers.
By building bridges between our institutions, we are better able to translate the wealth of research knowledge we create and design education and training programs to meet future workforce needs in the industries and professions we serve.
I can think of no better example of such a collaboration than our applied technologies higher-apprenticeship, co-developed with Siemens and the Australian Industry Group, which was born out of our extensive research partnership with Siemens.
This vocationally oriented qualification, delivered as a higher education diploma and supported by sub-bachelor Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs), provides Siemens with graduates from a diverse range of backgrounds who are job-ready and trained on their own equipment. Graduates are also eligible to move into the second year of an accredited engineering degree if they see this as a next educational and career step.
This program was only made possible by leveraging our industry-facing research capabilities, which are typical in universities, to create the practical, hands-on training and education that is synonymous with the VET sector.
To date, the limiting factor in our efforts to scale up qualifications of this nature has been the availability of sub-bachelor CSPs. We are grateful the Government has recently allowed more flexibility on the mix of designated places.
As someone fortunate to lead a dual-sector university, I see first-hand the importance of both post-school education sectors working in tandem to build Australia’s economic growth and prosperity.