The Australian | 19 September 2013
There was speculation after the announcement of Tony Abbott’s ministry early in the week as to who would be handling VET matters within the education portfolio. The Scan initially suggested Sussan Ley but pulled that down when the now prime minister said that, while the division of responsibilities inside the education portfolio was yet to be settled, higher education and schools would largely remain the responsibility of Christopher Pyne, Sussan Ley would continue to look after early childhood education and childcare and Scott Ryan “quite possibly” would have responsibility for curriculum.
One commentator predicted Ley would take the lead on key tertiary reform issues including regulation, the demand-driven system, loans schemes and “the dog’s breakfast that is apprenticeships”.
Well, yes, there you go: the VET side of the tertiary sector has actually landed in the lap of former and once more industry minister Ian McFarlane, along with science and research.
It’s a curious decision to separate the tertiary sector in that way, although not without precedent: VET was located in the business portfolio in Victoria in 2006 but reunited with education by the incoming Baillieu government in 2010.
As John Ross suggests in The Australian, the decision has “dug a trench across educational policy”.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s education director Jenny Lambert said said that, while there are advantages in aligning training with industry policy, the new government had overlooked ACCI’s lobbying for a “whole of education and training” approach to improve pathways from schools to vocational and higher education colleges.
Lambert said the decision would separate training at colleges and workplaces from preparatory vocational training at schools and university-level training for doctors, lawyers and architects.
The Australian Council for Private Education and Training’s CEO Claire Field said the decision to put training at the “heart of the industry portfolio” was long overdue:
The training sector is deeply linked to jobs and the economy.
So, presumably the rest of education is somehow disconnected from jobs and the economy?
This signals that the purpose of vocational education is to provide specific skills that employers want. It’s a very short-term view – we need to develop a broadly educated workforce that supports occupational progression.
– Leesa Wheelahan, LH Martin Institute
It does seem a rather narrow, utilitarian view of the nature of VET. Something that governments and their advisers seem to increasingly overlook is that about 80% of VET activity is in areas other than vocational training and is in more general education, which itself can serves as a pathway to other training and education (which is the logic of the Australian Qualifications Framework).
It also ignores the evolution of many TAFE institutes and some of the bigger private providers as integrated training and education providers, as witnessed by the blossoming polytechnic movement.
Finally, it connotes the official end of the “seamless tertiary sector” envisaged in the early, optimistic days of tertiary reform, inspired by the Bradley Report, although that may have sufficient momentum to occur organically (again, the polytechnic movement) – unless, of course, the government takes a dim of such developments and seeks to stymie them through, for example, funding restrictions.