VET providers, associate and bachelor degrees, and disadvantaged learners
Report to the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC) Australia, written by Trevor Gale, Steven Hodge, Stephen Parker, Shaun Rawolle, Emma Charlton, Piper Rodd, Andrew Skourdoumbis, and Tebeje Molla. A Deakin University and University of Ballarat collaboration.
This report on VET Providers, Associate and Bachelor Degrees, and Disadvantaged Learners, is derived from research commissioned by the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC) and conducted by researchers at Deakin University and the University of Ballarat. It is particularly concerned with the impact for disadvantaged learners of associate and bachelor degrees offered by vocational education and training (VET) providers.
The Australian Government and its agency – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) – registers VET providers that also offer higher education (HE), as other private providers (OPPs) of HE, irrespective of whether or not they are public providers of VET (i.e. established by state/territory governments). In contrast, this report identifies three categories of VET providers of HE: private, public and ‘partnered’. The third category involves a blurring of boundaries between public and private providers, as well as between VET and HE provision. One effect of this partnering is that student equity agendas are often diminished and sometimes absent altogether from the operations of VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees. The same can also be said of these degrees offered by public and private VET providers.
The marketisation of VET and of HE is implicated in these arrangements. Offering associate and bachelor degrees affords VET providers a point of distinction from other VET providers in the VET market and an additional revenue stream through the enrolment of full fee paying domestic and international students. Some also claim that VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees also help to meet equity – and thus expansion – targets set by the Australian Government. Expanding the Australian HE system is important for reconfiguring the nation’s workforce to make it more competitive in the global knowledge economy. Expansion beyond current student participation levels in associate and bachelor degrees necessarily requires increased participation by traditionally under-represented or ‘equity’ groups.
However, the evidence in this report is that disadvantaged learners are under-represented in VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees. This is consistent with previous studies (e.g. Wheelahan 2009; Rothman et al. 2013) that show that the higher the AQF level in VET-provided courses, the less equity is evident. The under-representation of disadvantaged learners in VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees is also greater than in associate and bachelor degrees offered by Australian universities. Other findings from the analysis of system-wide data include:
- There has been a substantial increase in the number of students enrolled in VET-provider bachelor degrees between 2006 and 2011
- The majority of VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees are offered by private providers rather than state-funded TAFE institutions
- Student enrolments in VET-provider degrees are concentrated in a few fields of study: Society and Culture, Health and Creative Arts
- Compared to university students undertaking associate and bachelor degrees, few VET-provider associate and bachelor degree students appear to complete their awards
- Students from equity groups are less likely to complete their VET-provider degrees
- There are more inequities for students from equity groups in terms of enrolments and completions for VET-provider associate degrees than for VET-provider bachelor degrees
- Data collection and reporting of VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees is problematic due to different accountabilities to a variety of state and federal government bodies.
The report includes five case studies of VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees:
- Associate Degree in Business, Sydney Institute of Business and Technology, New South Wales
- Associate Degree in Civil Engineering, Southbank Institute of Technology, Queensland
- Associate Degree of Arts, Business and Sciences, Deakin University, Victoria, in partnership with a number of Technical and Further Education institutions (TAFEs)
- Bachelor of Applied Music, Box Hill Institute of TAFE, Victoria, and
- Bachelor of Applied Management, University of Ballarat, Victoria, in partnership with a number of TAFEs.
Each case describes: the institution; the degree course; community and industry relations; student origins, enrolment and destinations; and support and implications for disadvantaged learners. Emerging from these case studies and from the system-wide data, the report identifies five challenges: (1) defining VET-provider HE activity; (2) defining disadvantage in VET-provider degrees; (3) blurred boundaries between public and private HE provision; (4) diverse staff views about what constitutes equity; and (5) the vocational relevance of VET-provider degrees.
The report concludes that, in student equity terms, there is a contrast between VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees and those offered by Australian universities. In particular, the disadvantage of students from equity groups is exacerbated in VET-provided associate and bachelor degrees. Their greater participation in comparable Australian university degrees is most probably because Australian universities have been held accountable to specific Australian Government equity policy and supported in their efforts through access to financial incentives (i.e. the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program) to expand the participation of disadvantaged learners.
Similar policy and incentives applied to VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees should deliver improvements for disadvantaged learners. There is also potential to pursue equity in the context of the curricula and pedagogy of associate and bachelor degrees. VET providers often claim that the distinctive pedagogical style of their VET programs suits disadvantaged learners. Translating this pedagogic style into their HE provision could enable greater participation of disadvantaged learners in VET-provider associate and bachelor degrees.
The report concludes with seven targeted recommendations for action by the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC).