02 SES 17 C, Higher level vocational education: the route to high skills and productivity as well as greater equity? An International Comparative Analysis
This paper explores the growth of higher vocational education in non-university college providers of vocational education (VET) in Australia. Demand-led growth, has allowed non-university college providers to enter the higher education system and offer Batchelor degrees normally associated with universities (Kemp and Norton 2014). As the growth of vocational institutions providing higher education is a major international development in the field of higher education (HE) (Trow 2006) answering questions about the effects of this growth on social mobility through the case of Australia has increasing wider relevance to the growing European field of scholarship on college based higher education (Kuhlee and Laczik 2015) because policy in Australia frequently refers to and draws on European systems. The conceptual framework informing the research design and analysis draws on both Bourdieu (1977/1990) and Bernstein (1990) who have each developed understandings of education as fields or sites of cultural and structural mechanisms that mediate the maintenance and reproduction of social inequality. The paper applies thematic and critical discourse analysis to the messages associated with the marketing of undergraduate degrees and the presentation of teaching, curriculum and assessment to students in the three largest publicly owned non-university providers. Data analysed from the three case studies include: semi-structured interviews with 9 senior college staff; media/marketing materials, institutional strategy and curriculum documents and government-collected enrolments data. The analysis explores how providers position themselves to support social mobility and who participates on their programs and whether the position these providers play is different from Anglophone or German speaking country models (Graf 2013; Powell et al. 2012). The data analysis shows tensions and ambiguities in the institutional missions and effects. New government owned non-university providers of Bachelor’s degrees present mixed messages by claiming to provide a distinctive form of applied higher technical knowledge and a mission to redress system inequalities for those from low-income families without experience of higher education. Participation data reveal a different account; the majority of students recruited are from a wider range of social groups, including international students and those from more affluent backgrounds trying to maintain their social advantages. This analysis of how vocational institutions are seeking to be distinctive providers in higher education is significant to understanding whether the system is becoming increasingly vertically stratified and stretched between providers (Marginson 2016, Wheelahan 2016) in different global contexts.
Bernstein, B. 1990. The Structuring of Pedagogic Discourse (Vol. IV). London: Routledge Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J-C. 1977/1990. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London:Sage Publications Graf, L.2013. The Hybridization of Vocational Training and Higher Education in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Opladen u.a: Budrich UniPress. Kemp, D. and Norton, A. 2014. Review of the Demand Driven Funding System, Department for Education Canberra: Australian Government. Kuhlee, D. and Laczik, A. 2015. Editorial. Research in Comparative and International Education 10: 459-463. Marginson, S. 2016 The worldwide trend to high participation higher education: dynamics of social stratification in inclusive systems. Higher Education 72(4): 413-434. Powell, JW, Graf, L., Bernhard, N., Coutrot L., & Kieffer, A., 2012. The Shifting Relationship between Vocational Higher Education in France and Germany: Towards Convergence? European Journal of Education, 47, 405-423. Trow, M., 2006. Reflections on the transition from Elite to mass to Universal access: Forms and Phases of higher education in modern societies since WWII. In J. Forest and Altbach,P.G. (Eds.) International Handbook of Higher Education. Dordrecht:Kluwer, 243-280. Wheelahan, L., 2016. ‘College for all’ in Anglophone countries – meritocracy or social inequality? An Australian example. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 21(1-2): 33-48.
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