Australian universities back creation of degree apprenticeships

Dual-sector university grouping the latest to resuscitate plans for integrated post-school sector

April 9, 2019
Vocational training

An Australian report has proposed the creation of degree-level apprenticeships, in the latest attempt to revive a decade-old push to intertwine the country’s higher and vocational education sectors.

The report from the country’s six dual-sector institutions, which provide both degree-level and vocational qualifications, says the apprenticeship model – combining paid work-based learning with formal training – has “potential benefits in areas beyond the traditional trades”.

“Apprenticeships can be offered for researchers employed in knowledge intensive firms and at degree and postgraduate levels,” the report says. “They need not be limited to the vocational education and training system.

“There is a strong case to extend apprenticeships to higher qualification levels to meet the deepening and intensifying skills needs of Australian industry.”

The report says such a reform would require Commonwealth employer incentive payments, currently restricted to vocational-level training, to be extended to new industries and occupations.

The proposal is among a slew of reforms aimed at breathing new life into the “broader tertiary education system” envisaged a decade ago by the Bradley Review of higher education.

“Despite the Bradley Review proposals, connections between the higher education and VET systems have – if anything – weakened as differences in governance, funding and regulation have become entrenched,” the report says.

“Enrolments in higher education have grown rapidly, although funding has now been capped, while VET enrolments in publicly funded courses are lower than they were a decade ago as public investment in VET has declined.”

The report says several recent reports have revisited the Bradley proposals, with some arguing for a single integrated system. Such proposals have “substantial merit but carry risks in terms of the cost and complexity of system integration and the loss of differentiation and diversity,” it says.

“They are also not likely to be agreed by the states and territories,” it adds.

The report advocates retaining the “key characteristics and distinctive contributions” of the current systems. This would involve strengthening vocational training where required, connecting the two systems through “a determined focus on student pathways” and redressing distortions caused by “anomalies and inconsistencies in funding”.

The report proposes “common policy principles” including funding that is “demand driven, system neutral and priced to meet diverse needs”. The Australian Qualifications Framework would require reforms that “support learner centred pathways across the continuum of AQF qualifications”.

The report is signed by the vice-chancellors of Central Queensland University, Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory and Swinburne, Victoria, Federation and RMIT universities in Victoria.

It has emerged amid a major review of the AQF which is scheduled for completion in September. Meanwhile the opposition Labor party has promised its own major review of post-school education if it wins the federal election expected next month. The election’s date is expected to be announced within days.

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