TAFE Or Uni? Here’s What You Think Of The Great Debate

TAFE Or Uni? Here’s What You Think Of The Great Debate

University degrees and Technical and Further Education (TAFE) qualifications have long been considered the only two career pathways. So if you had to choose, where would you study? And more importantly, why? We asked our online community, because maybe there’s another way...

We’re interested in these traditional roads to employment because our research shows that they aren’t working. Many young people are struggling to navigate a rapidly changing world of work. On average, it’s taking them 2.6 years to transition from full-time education to full-time work, compared to the 1 year it took them in 1986. That’s ages!

And it’s clear that our online community is keen to talk about it. When we asked if they’d pick TAFE or uni, close to 300 people responded. Uni was the clear preference.

Pie chart - 70% uni and 30% TAFE

But why?

Some said they made decisions based on their individual learning styles, or the kinds of career paths they wanted to pursue. Those who chose university didn’t feel there were equivalent options for them at TAFE, and others put it down to family and school expectations.

Andy, 22, said, “Coming from a selective school in Victoria, it was more or less an expectation that everyone went to uni, where uni = superior choice/smart/successful. I vaguely remember my career counsellor never touching on TAFE while I was in high school.”

“I’d pick uni but I can clearly match that to family pressure and doing what they expect and what’s been told to me ever since I can remember. It was never really a discussion about choice, it was just what I was supposed to do. I understand where my parents were coming from though. They were just looking out for my security because they associate degrees with jobs.” – Mehak, 23

Those that decided on TAFE said that this was because the expectations are far more manageable, it’s more practical, and they liked having to demonstrate the application of their skills in a work environment. One young person noted that they had chosen uni but wish they’d chosen TAFE because they’re now in a lot of debt and ‘stuck’ in hospitality work.

There were also some who’d contemplated the choice in the past who wondered whether they’d made the right decision.

Leanne, 28, said that she was “very actively dissuaded by careers counsellors, teachers and my family after asking about entry into TAFE or other training for pastry or bread-making. Instead I completed uni but struggled to get enthusiastic about my degree. I STILL think about what might have been if I had gone down the baking route.”

What if there were other ways?

Many people who responded also said there was a need for reform across the board.We agree, especially considering The New Work Reality report found that half of Australia’s 25 year-olds are unable to secure full-time employment, despite 60% holding post-school qualifications.

At FYA, we want to see many alternative routes to employment for young people. Some of the ways we’re working towards creating them is through pilot programs to upskill students with career management and enterprise skills, exploring new work-integrated learning models, and other ways for young people to gain qualifications while fully employed.

What if the great debate was more about uni, TAFE, and something else entirely? We think it can be, and it should be.

What has been your experience transitioning from school to work? Tell us about it via newsroom@fya.org.au.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.