02 SES 11 A, The Power of Formal and Informal Learning
This paper critiques the changing policy environment for vocational education and training in Australia, questioning whether a ‘crisis’ point has been reached.
Historically, Australia had well established and respected vocational education and training systems providing skilled workers for agriculture, natural resources and manufacturing (Payton, 2017). Australian VET policy prior to the latter part of the 20th century was stable, albeit with state differences. The 1980s heralded a shift in the economy emphasising natural resources, education and service industries and free trade. Keating (1995) described this period as one moving to a national VET agenda, directed to industry and workplace needs, reforms to develop multi skilled people able to learn in new work contexts. Apprenticeships were to be broadened; Key Competencies for all VET training were developed from industry consultations.
Key to these policy changes was the introduction of national training packages, with demonstration and assessment of learning outcomes rather than curriculum and time ‘served’ training (Smith and Keating, 2003). The qualifications required by teachers and trainers were reduced to below bachelor degree level with an emphasis on delivery and assessment.
In common with G20 countries and the European Union (ILO, 2010), Australia aims to achieve a skilled, adaptable workforce to position the nation to compete in a multinational world as a knowledge economy with international viability. National policies emphasise aims for ‘a well-functioning VET system that delivers the skills we need is fundamental to a strong and prosperous economy that delivers the jobs Australian families and industry want’ (Australian Government Department of Education and Training, 2017) along with greater mobility between occupations, strengthened apprenticeships, and increased participation in high-quality training. This policy discourse is contrary to the reality of a declining VET sector.
It is argued that policy has shifted from ‘education as a public service’ to an emphasis on the market. ‘Education is conceptualised as a private good rather than a public responsibility’ (Whitty, 2002, p.79) Even in the popular press, this policy shift is described as having led to a ‘crisis in VET’, a ‘mess’ needing to be cleaned up! In particular, students have been persuaded into enrolling into high cost study, training organisations have failed quality audits, been bankrupted and students left with dubious qualifications. Contestability, whereby Public Institutes and private providers compete for government funding, led to abuses. This policy shift is excluding’ potential learners from vocational education and jeopardising those who participate as ‘consumers’. Diversity, competition and flexibility of choice, through contestability, replace a system inclusive of a diversity of students.
This reinforces Ball’s observation that: ‘The shift from public to private provision of a range of what were previously services to the community has advanced inexorably’ (2007). The role of the state has shifted to an increasing of corporate curricula. As Moodie (2016) reports, private providers deliver 46% of government funded vocational education, an increase from 29% in 2011.
Recent policies emphasise university qualifications rather than VET (Norton, 2016). At the same time Australia has experienced lower numbers of apprentices, evidenced in a 12.4% decline in 2016 (NCVER, 2017). Other countries are trying to attract apprentices, such as England’s apprenticeship levy, and introduction of higher apprenticeships.
Critical inquiry provides a theoretical perspective with consideration of power relations, societal privilege, interests of dominant groups, and reproduction of societal division (Gray, 2014). The shift from public to private provision of services to the community has advanced inexorably (Ball, 2007). The role of the state has shifted increasingly to funding the private delivery of a corporatised curriculum in vocational education in a competitive market. The private is privileged over the public to the exclusion of the disadvantaged.
A qualitative research methodology is employed for this analysis of policy and trends. Literature and academic critique of policy in education and training and on the role of the state frames the research and the collection of data for this paper. Policy documentation is reviewed and analysed; national education and training statistical information is analysed to identify trends; and media reports are utilised in the collection of data. These latter reports provide a more colourful representation of the impact of the VET policies. Government reports and national research are drawn upon. The policies from one state, Victoria, are utilised as a case study. The status and credibility of this system and policies are interrogated through these methods and sources. Input from a focus workshop was particularly informative; colleagues from across the national VET sector debated the issues and future of the system.A series of research studies conducted into aspects of the VET system will contribute additional data. Personal professional experience and observations of vocational education and training provide an insider perspective. Consideration of Inclusion and exclusion of sectors of the learning community in vocational education and training is integral to the analysis.
The Australian public VET sector is challenged by a lack of national and state government support. National VET funding has declined by 35% since 2005 (Moodie, 2016). This, along with declining numbers in apprenticeships and in training programs, raises concerns. The deprofessionalisation of teachers and trainers, the abuses of quality, the inability to graduate with a respected qualification, the financial scandals, all create reputational damage. The viability of the system itself becomes questionable. This era of destalization, of increased privatisation is accompanied by an almost contradictory increase in surveillance and centralisation and control. The realities of a flawed system when juxtaposed against national goals for a skilled, flexible workforce seem hollow. What skills are required for this the 4th Industrial Revolution and a changing world of work? Korbel and Misko (2016) have noted that 85% of people are in 200 qualifications and 15% across 1444; some rationalisation and clever and innovative strategic planning and operations would be beneficial. In considering the future, is a more inclusive and respectable and ethical vocational education and training system, as envisaged by Mckenzie and Coulson (2015) possible? Whitty (2002) challenges us to consider social justice and equity, and Ball ( 2007) stresses the importance of ethics, obligations and values as important in both education and society. For the future, are we able to work towards achievement of a more inclusive education and training system which is more equitable and which provides opportunities for all learners. For a more capable society, one has to remain optimistic. https://www.conftool.com/ecer2018/copyright.php
Australian Government Department of Education and Training (2017) Vocational Education and Training Reform, https:www.education.gov.au/vocational_education_and_training_reform Words: 225 Australian vocational education and training statistics, (2017) Apprentices and trainees, 2016, NCVER, Adelaide, SA Gray, D. E., (2014) Doing Research in the Real World, SAGE Publications Ltd., London, Thousand Oaks California, New Delhi and Singapore Hamdhan, A., (2013) Contestable funding in the VET Sector: Implications on the role of public TAFEs – A cause for concern, www.academia.edu/5176867/Contestable_funding_in_the_Australian_Vocational_Education_and_Training_VET_Sector Harris, R., (2017) What do we learn from 40 years of history? Issues in VET teacher education from Kangan to today, International Journal of training research, pp 1-19, online International Labour Organization (2010) A Skilled Workforce for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth: A G20 Training Strategy, ILO, Geneva, Switzerland Keating, J., (1995) Australian Training Reform, Implications for Schools, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton Australia Korbel, P., and Misko, J., (2016) Uptake and utility of VET qualifications, NCVER, Adelaide, SA Mckenzie, B., and Coulson, N., (2015) Final Report of the VET Funding Review, www.education.vic.gov.au Moodie, G., (2016) What Australia can learn from England’s plan for vocational education, The Conversation Norton, A., (2016) Mapping Australian Higher Education, Grattan Institute, https: gratttan.edu.au Payton, A., (2017) Skilling for tomorrow, NCVER, 26th National VET Research Conference, No Frills, NCVER, Adelaide, SA Smith, E., and Keating, J., (2003) From Training Reform to Training Packages, Social Science Press, Tuggerah Lakes, NSW Smith, E., and Yasukawa, K., (2017) Views of VET teachers, managers and students about VET teacher qualifications, Paper Whitty, G., (2002) Making Sense of Education Policy, Paul Chapman Publishing, A SAGE Publishing Company, London, Thousand Oaks California, New Delhi
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