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Students opt for university over VET

NCVER     |     11 December 2014

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The introduction of the uncapped demand-driven system for universities is seemingly driving changes in participation in tertiary education, with far fewer young people undertaking vocational education and training (VET) in favour of higher education, according to a report published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), Young people in education and training 2013.

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The report showed 55.4% of 15 to 19 year olds are at school; 15.6% are in higher education; 5.1% are undertaking an apprenticeship or traineeship; and 5.3% are enrolled in publicly funded VET programs.

The steady participation rate in education and training of 81.3% reflects a 1.0% increase in school enrolments, a 5.2% increase in higher education and a 7.1% decrease in publicly funded VET programs compared with 2012. Obviously, that leaves an alarmingly high 18.7% of young people not engaged in education and training although a good proportion of those will be undertaking some form of gap year and some will be in paid employment. Other reporting, such as the Victorian On track survey, indicates that the non-participation rate is much higher in regional and rural areas than metropolitan areas (35% vs 24% in Victoria in 2013).

Young people’s enrolments in the VET sector shifted between 2012 and 2013 with:

  • VET in Schools students declining by 1.1%, however those enrolled in certificate III courses increased by 12.7%
  • Apprenticeship and traineeships commencements declining by 20.7%, with a 7.3% decline in trades and a whopping 30.4% decrease in non-trades for this age group.

Participation patterns vary considerably between jurisdictions: for example, enrolments in VET diplomas are down slightly nationally (-0.5%) but declined considerably in Victoria (-10.4%) while growing in NSW (+7.1%) and Queensland (+5%).  There has been strong growth (off a low base) in bachelor degree enrolments in VET institutions (+24.2%) concentrated in NSW (+32.1%) and Victoria (+17.3%) but a marked decline in associate degrees (-64.2%), which reflects something  that’s happened in Queensland (we don’t know what – it may be a compilation issue).  Advanced diplomas are also rapidly disappearing – down 22% nationally in 2013.

With these figures in mind, you can understand why both TAFE Directors Australia, representing the public VET provider network,  and the Australian Council of Private Education and Training, representing private providers,  are both stridently supporting the extension of public subsidies to students at non-university hgiher education providers, regardless of the merits of the total package.

Former education minister Kim Carr publicly mused in July 2013 that the vast increase in enrolments in undergraduate degrees  was affecting quality, saying high attrition rates “suggest we have the right to ask whether the education (some students) are getting is appropriate” and that  emphasis for school-leavers with lower ATARs should be on sub-degree programs, using “the full range of educational opportunities available, including a highly valued TAFE system”.  This was taken at the time as code for re-introducing some form of enrolment cap (which was quickly denied by Carr). We might soon hear similar musings from current minister Christopher Pyne, particularly given the apparent impasse in the Senate on his deregulation package.

We’ll leave you with the observations of commentator Stephen Matchett to think about:

 This is … very bad news – and not just of the “we need plumbers more than media studies graduates” kind. Higher education is not the right path for everybody but it is becoming the only one young people think will provide a career. If this continues it will unbalance the economy and waste the potential of you people who take paths that do not suit them.

Publicly funded VET students aged 15 to 19 years by selected major course characteristics, 2009–13
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2012–13
(’000) (’000) (’000) (’000) (’000) % % change
Qualification level
AQF qualifications
Graduate diploma or professional specialist (graduate diploma level) 0.0               – 0.0               – 0.0 0.0               na
Graduate certificate or professional specialist (graduate certificate level) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 -88.2
Bachelor degree (pass and honours) 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.1 24.2
Advanced diploma 6.7 6.1 5.4 5.0 3.9 0.9 -21.7
Associate degree 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 -64.2
Diploma 24.8 24.2 25.2 24.1 24.0 5.3 -0.5
Certificate IV 26.1 27.9 33.8 33.8 35.0 7.7 3.6
Certificate III 164.6 175.0 187.3 200.2 183.7 40.5 -8.2
Certificate II 133.8 148.6 158.8 159.2 142.8 31.5 -10.3
Certificate I 34.7 32.3 27.7 24.8 23.6 5.2 -4.9
AQF sub-total 391.1 414.5 438.6 447.7 413.7 91.3 -7.6
Non-AQF qualifications
Other recognised courses 39.1 35.1 26.6 24.9 22.1 4.9 -11.1
Non-award courses 7.6 7.5 7.9 6.0 6.4 1.4 5.4
Subject only – no qualification 9.6 5.0 5.0 9.5 11.2 2.5 18.0
Non-AQF sub-total 56.4 47.6 39.6 40.4 39.7 8.7 -1.8
Field of education
Natural and physical sciences 1.2 1.5 1.5 1.3 1.3 0.3 2.9
Information technology 10.2 8.6 9.2 11.3 13.4 3.0 19.0
Engineering and related technologies 79.4 81.8 82.0 82.3 74.8 16.5 -9.1
Architecture and building 48.3 53.8 53.5 48.7 45.9 10.1 -5.8
Agriculture, environmental and related studies 15.0 16.7 16.9 15.3 14.2 3.1 -7.2
Health 14.0 14.9 15.2 15.6 16.1 3.5 2.7
Education 4.1 3.8 3.1 3.4 5.1 1.1 48.0
Management and commerce 91.2 92.5 100.4 96.4 75.6 16.7 -21.6
Society and culture 32.1 40.2 48.8 52.9 51.9 11.4 -2.0
Creative arts 19.0 21.0 21.1 21.3 19.3 4.2 -9.6
Food, hospitality and personal services 78.7 81.8 82.9 86.3 78.1 17.2 -9.5
Mixed field programmes 44.8 40.4 38.7 43.7 46.6 10.3 6.7
Subject only—no field of education 9.6 5.0 5.0 9.5 11.2 2.5 18.0
Total 447.4 462.0 478.2 488.1 453.4 100.0 -7.1
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