More Australian technical and further education colleges are awarding degrees despite strong opposition from the country's vice-chancellors.
The sector enrols more than 1 million students on apprenticeship and other vocational courses each year. But many colleges want to compete with universities by offering their own degrees.
The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee believes that the higher education and vocational education sectors should be kept separate. Vice-chancellors have voiced opposition to colleges awarding associate or applied degrees.
Colleges with degree courses include the Adelaide Institute of Technical and Further Education and the Canberra Institute of Technology. Both received authority from the respective state and territory governments to award degrees, as have several private vocational education institutions.
Some technical colleges have signed agreements with universities to run degree programmes for their own students. The universities accredit the courses, which are taught at the colleges, and issue the awards.
In Victoria, the Holmesglen Institute of Technical and Further Education became the first non-university institution in Australia to offer a three-year undergraduate degree through an arrangement with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.
Students who successfully complete a two-year associate diploma of business can take the third year of the polytechnic's bachelor of business.
The students remain at the institute, but have dual enrolment. They graduate with an Open Polytechnic degree and may then undertake postgraduate studies at any New Zealand university or at some Australian institutions.
Students at a tertiary college normally receive only one year's credit when they transfer to a degree course after completing a three-year associate diploma. Holmesglen's students, however, can complete a degree full-time in the usual three years.
Michael Osborne, vice-chancellor of La Trobe University, backed the Holmesglen system and suggested that the colleges could be styled technical universities. The former Victorian conservative government had ruled this out, but the present Labor government is likely to adopt a more flexible approach.