Is TAFE as good as uni?

Is TAFE as good as uni?

There’s been lots of discussion in the media around the value and role of vocational education and training (VET) and technical and further education (TAFE). It started last Thursday August 8th when Prime Minister Scott Morrison commented, “TAFE is as good as uni”, cementing the topic on the agenda for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting the next day.

While COAG was in session that Friday, the CEO of TAFE Directors Australia, Craig Robertson, spoke to Radio National about his vision for a modernised and provider-led VET system that would thrive in a changing world of work. COAG followed this up with the release of a vision and commitment to improving vocational education and training. That Sunday, the Grattan Institute released a report looking at the benefits of VET as a viable and beneficial higher education system that could stand equal with university. 

By Monday morning, it seemed every newsroom and columnist in the nation was giving their two cents about the state and future of VET and TAFE in Australia. It seems the debate on the efficacy of VET and TAFE comes back up every couple of years with little difference between talking points and opinions between news cycles. 

Our New Work Order report series suggests that all jobs across the economy will be transformed by automation by 2030. In this new economy, the best education is one that will equip workers with the skills and capabilities that industry are demanding. However, the research shows that three out of four young Australians believe that a key reason they can’t get work is because they don’t have the know-how to put the skills they’re learning into practice at work. We also know that students with 5,000 hours of work experience will enter the workforce up to 12 months faster than those who don’t. 

Over the past decade, there has been growing consensus that Australia’s education and training systems must evolve to ensure they are responsive and relevant to the changing world of work and needs of the future workforce

How do we ensure that the next generation of workers are skilled and ready for the New Work Order

To support current and future workers to prepare for this we need a system and pathways that cultivate lifelong learning while supporting continuous upskilling and reskilling. Currently only 19% of a person’s learning and training occurs after the age of 21, but by 2040, this number will more than double to 41%. The education system must be enabled and equipped to provide learning that builds future focussed, work ready skills and is integrated with hands on experience.

In Australia, 78% of VET graduates are employed soon after training. For VET grads who completed an apprenticeship that jumps to 92%. Further, the Commonwealth Department of Employment’s occupational projections forecast that an additional 990,000 jobs are expected to be created by 2020 in Australia, but just 70,000 of those jobs will require only a senior secondary level education. Importantly, almost half of those jobs – 437,000 – will require Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma level qualifications.

So, clearly there’s still a need for VET and it is a pathway that’s still providing opportunity for many young Australians.

We need to both revitalise existing pathways and open up new pathways into learning and work to foster equity and improve productivity. It’s time to ditch the binary debate about TAFE versus Uni. Let’s instead have a conversation about the pathways of the future.