The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia has proposed "Seven Priorities For A Skilled & Educated Workforce". ITECA is made up of private sector vocational training providers, and their proposals aim to integrate that sector with the mostly government funded university sector. The federal and state governments run separate funding and regulatory systems for the university (which are mostly public) and the vocational sectors (which has more private providers, both not and for-profit). Part of the difference is due to Australia's universities having dual roles of both research and education, and a resulting level of autonomy which neither the public or private sector vocational institutions enjoy.
Australia already has an integrated tertiary education system, at least conceptually. Universities and vocational education are part of the ten level Australian Qualifications Framework, with VET at the lower levels, university at the upper end and an overlap in the middle. Some Australian universities are dual sector, typically offering students a vocational qualification with the option of articulation to university. However, the level of standardization which exists in the VET sector, does not apply to university. As a result a student who has undertaken studies at VET, can't be assured of receiving full recognition at a university (or even from one university to another).
While a fully integrated system with student choice, and less red tape is appealing, it would not come without risks and costs. The Australian government previously expanded funding of student loans for VET without putting in place adequate controls. This resulting in billions of dollars being wasted, by unscrupulous providers, signing up students who had no hope of completing their courses. As well as a loss of public money, and damage to Australia's reputation as an education provider, this caused harm to thousands of students. Any new system will need to ensure there are checks and balances in place to prevent a repeat of this happening again. The use of real time online reporting, and industry self regulation would help.
The seven priorities proposed by the ITECA are:
- "An integrated tertiary education system: That the Australian Government develop a five-year strategy to deliver an integrated tertiary education system, in which the higher education and vocational education and training sectors operate as one, yet retain their separate and distinct strengths and identities.
- A more cohesive approach to regulation and reporting: That the Australian Government places tertiary education red tape reduction on the agenda at National Cabinet to develop a strategy that delivers a convergence of regulatory and reporting obligations, eliminating duplicative, redundant and burdensome regulation and reporting at a state/territory and national level.
- An investment that strengthens students choice in higher education: That the Australian Government expand the highly successful investment it has made, enabling students to study in a Commonwealth-subsidised place with a quality independent higher education provider and engage in the critical thinking and learning needs they choose.
- An approach to skills funding that empowers student choice: That the Australian Government’s investment in skills be provided only to those jurisdictions that award funding on the basis of empowering student choice, allowing students to study with a provider (whether independent or public) that has a demonstrated ability to help them achieve their life and career goals.
- An approach that funds courses where the skills shortages are: That the National Skills Commissioner, working with states and territories, identify where an increase to skills funding is required by identifying the qualifications to be subsidised with the support for students (and made available to an RTO) reflecting the cost of achieving excellence in training outcomes.
- A single student loan program that supports lifelong learning: That the Australian Government overhaul tertiary education student loans programs, creating a single lifelong learning account (incorporating FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans), enabling students to access income-contingent loans, without the existing Student Loan Tax, available from Certificate IV through to post-graduate level study in a seamless way, throughout their working lives.
- A bold new plan for international education: That the Australian Government immediately put in place a plan to rebuild Australia’s capacity and reputation to support international students, backed by a new International Education Commission tasked with implementing the new Australian international education strategy."