Australian review backs formal recognition of microcredentials

AQF review also recommends smoother pathways between vocational and higher education

October 23, 2019
Dan Tehan, Australian minister for education and training

Australian students will be given more opportunity to “mix and match” university and vocational education credentials under recommendations from an expert panel.

The review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) has recommended changes that would make it easier for vocational qualifications and school subjects to be credited towards higher education degrees.

The report wants student pathways to be made more flexible, with easier movement between vocational training and higher education, while microcredentials would be given formal recognition in the qualifications system.

This would allow universities and colleges to offer “short, highly targeted courses to students and employers looking to fill a skills gap without getting bogged down in red tape”, a joint statement from education minister Dan Tehan and skills minister Michaelia Cash explained.

“What we want to do is make sure there is a proper framework [so] that we know that the microcredentials are quality certificates, and therefore that the employers will recognise them,” Mr Tehan told ABC Radio.

The AQF incorporates qualifications from higher education, schooling and vocational education and training (VET) into a comprehensive national framework. Mr Tehan said the review would help reshape the qualifications architecture “to better serve students and meet the demands of the modern economy”.

He said the implicit value of higher education and VET credentials would be better reflected if students were able to put together qualifications from both sectors “based on their learning requirements”.

The review recommends the creation of a new type of qualification, a “higher diploma”, which would have the same cachet as a bachelor’s degree. The panel also wants VET certificates – which are currently ranked on a scale of I to IV – renamed “to reflect their purpose”, the joint statement says.

The key recommendation is for “a revised…architecture that is simpler and more flexible, to promote the equal value of qualification types across higher education and VET, and to reflect the changing nature of work and post-secondary education”.

Ms Cash said a more flexible system would help meet people’s requirements “at all stages of their career, while responding to current and evolving workforce needs”.

“For example, someone doing a VET course in carpentry may want to study some business courses at a university to help them run a small business. Likewise, someone studying engineering at a university may want some hands-on experience in refrigeration.”

The report was being released in Canberra on 24 October. Mr Tehan said the government would consider its recommendations and “respond in due course”.

Some proposals would require approval from state and territory governments, which are responsible for VET and schooling. The recommendations are expected to be considered by councils of education and skills ministers from both levels of government.

The review has been headed by education policy veteran Peter Noonan, a longstanding advocate for better skills funding and more integrated administration of higher and vocational education.

The report has emerged a day after Australia’s Labor opposition accused the federal government of short-changing the VET sector by almost A$1 billion (£530 million). Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said an education department report showed that the government had failed to spend A$919 million of budgeted VET allocations over five years.

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