Australian review backs cadetships to improve employability

Our review won’t work until you ‘get on with’ the last one, former v-cs tell government

November 27, 2021
employees and interns in asian office

Cadetships would be hardwired into Australian universities’ programmes to bolster the employability of their graduates, under likely recommendations from a federally commissioned government review. And Canberra would be urged to fund better microcredentials, “lifelong learning accounts” and incentives to encourage universities, schools and training colleges to team up with industry.

The recommendations, which are being finalised ahead of their formal presentation to the education minister, Alan Tudge, come from the government’s review into university-industry collaboration in teaching and learning.

The inquiry, led by Martin Bean and Peter Dawkins, former vice-chancellors of RMIT and Victoria universities, was initiated in June to improve the pathways between education sectors and into employment.

Offering a “sneak peek” of their upcoming report at the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency conference, the pair outlined the rationale for boosting universities’ partnerships with industry and their alignment with vocational education.

“Ever since the global financial crisis, it has been proving harder for young people to get into skilled employment,” Professor Dawkins said. “Employers [are] increasingly looking for experience as well as qualifications and skills.”

The review will advocate four “interventions” partly adapted from initiatives in the UK. In a move based on “learning-integrated work”, which Professor Dawkins distinguished from work-integrated learning (WIL), universities could educate cadets with new employment contracts.

The arrangement would take both short and long forms, he said. People nearing the end of their studies might sign up for “short cadetships”, combining work and microcredentials to “help that transition from education into employment”.

Longer term cadets would work for the duration of more protracted courses as they earned degrees or associate degrees in closely related fields. Professor Dawkins said the idea would build on Britain’s degree apprenticeships and Australia’s “experiments” with advanced apprenticeships. “We think their time has come.”

The review will also urge Canberra to use the A$900 million (£480 million) National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund, part of last year’s Job-Ready Graduates reforms, to bankroll WIL initiatives. A third intervention would harness “targeted investment” to persuade universities and industry to work together in developing “meaningful” microcredentials.

Professor Bean said the review had heard “loud and clear” that higher education institutions needed more flexibility to work with businesses in developing microcredentials – a flexibility that had been lacking as universities hurriedly developed short courses funded in an emergency pandemic measure.

A fourth recommendation involves “stimulation and incentives” for cross-sectoral partnerships, where higher education institutions, training colleges and schools work together and with industry to co-deliver courses and develop credit arrangements for work-based learning.

Professor Bean said the review would also call for “high-level architectural” changes, including more closely defined “descriptors” of skills and a “unified credentials platform” to link initiatives such as the national microcredentials marketplace, the national credentials platform, the Your Career website and the work of the National Skills Commission.

And the pair will urge the government to act on recommendations that it has already accepted from the 2019 review of the Australian Qualifications Framework by policy veteran Peter Noonan. “Everybody agrees the Noonan review was a wonderful piece of work,” Professor Bean said.

“It was universally accepted. Let’s get on with it now. Let’s implement the proposed reforms as outlined in the Noonan review. They’re absolutely critical to enable much of what we’re recommending through our piece of work.”

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