Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Proposed Reforms for Australian Higher Education

The Australian Parliamentary Library issued a Bills Digest, discussing the proposed changes to VET Student Loans (James Griffiths, 22 November 2016). The changes are to address a blow-out in costs in the Vocational Education and Training Sector. However, I suggest these measures will only be a stop-gap. Australia needs a policy which integrates VET and university sector.

One problem in the university sector is falling completion rates. A way to address this would be to use VET as a transition from school to higher education and as a way to support those who do not have sufficient, or recent, schooling. Currently Australian university have numerous ad-hoc programs to prepare students for university. These should be replaced with a coordinated national VET program.

Another way to address completion rates is with nested courses. Student loans could be limited to small qualification increments, so that students have to complete a vocationally useful qualification, before incurring more debt. Those with no prior HE qualification could be required to complete a six month certificate, before articulating to further studies. Students would then progress with qualifications which did not exceed two two years to complete full time. A typical path would be certificate, diploma or advanced diploma, bachelors degree, masters, and professional doctorate.

One element of VET which could be carried over to the university sector is planning for vocational outcomes. Currently universities can offer courses where there is not clear vocational outcome. An alternative would be to require universities to present evidence to show there are likely to be jobs for future graduates. Such predictions cannot be perfect, but some planning would be better than none at all. Universities and the VET would still be free to offer non-vocational programs, but these would not be eligible for student loan support.

Currently PHD programs are separately funded, for the purposes of advancing research. However, very few of the PHD graduates go on to a career in research. The current PHD funding could be reduced by 80% and the saving used for more direct research support. Students would instead have the option of a vocationally orientated professional doctorate, supported by a loan.

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