A Round-Up of Tertiary News in Australia

Claudia Reiners
September 18, 2019

A Round-Up of Tertiary News in Australia

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

It seems that 2019 is already drawing to a close, and the past few months have been jam-packed with news and updates from both the higher education and vocational sectors.

While this is to be expected in an election year, the sheer number of news articles and press makes it hard to pick out the relevant pieces and get an objective viewpoint.

To make it a little easier, we’ve covered off the main news and updates that we’ve seen across the sector over the past few months.

The Election

There was not a lot of noise around the education sector during the lead up to the election. Education policy did not feature heavily in discussions until later in the year.

The funding freeze on universities is still in place, with no return to demand driven funding in sight.

In conjunction with the Coalition’s 2019 Budget announcement, the Government released their response to the Joyce VET Review, a comprehensive review on Australia’s VET sector, led by the Hon. Steven Joyce.

Addressing some of Joyce’s recommendations, the Minister for Skills and Vocational Education, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, has said that they “will commit over $525 million to ensure Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector delivers the skills critical to the economy now and into the future.”

As we’ve commented on before, the traditional divide between VET and University learning is not as pronounced as before, and nor should it be as the nature of work changes. Hopefully, the additional funding and initiatives (there were 71 recommendations in the Joyce Report) will continue to help the VET sector address skills shortages and the future economy.

International Students Are Still Big Business

Often touted as Australia’s 3rd biggest export, international education is said to be worth $32 billion. However, as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also described, the $32 billion in export revenue includes ‘international student expenditure on tuition fees and living expenses’. which tells us that this figure is misleading.

That said, international students studying in Australia, of which 29% are Chinese students, is big business.

Of these students, 51% are enrolled in higher education, and 28% in VET (June 2019 numbers according to the Australian Government’s Department of Education).

The long term analysis and overall impact of overseas students is uncertain, but the industry is set to continue to grow.

Some in the sector, such as adjunct scholar Salvatore Babones in his paper, The China Student Boom and the Risks It Poses to Australian Universities, claim that there are inherent risks and that the ‘financial risks of over-reliance on China are very large.’

There is plenty of evidence that underpins our reliance on international education, such as the statistic that ‘On average, each dollar of revenue on international education fees supports $0.21 of indirect value added in other industries.’

University Is For Learning, VET Is For Earning

‘University is for learning, VET is for earning’, said Skills Minister Michaela Cash recently at a business breakfast.

We covered this in a recent article in July, and there have been countless articles published since this statement.

It’s clear that investing in VET makes economic sense for the country, and it is said that VET graduates make $2,000 more per annum than their University counterparts. While this is true, employment levels and salaries do tend to even out for VET and University grads a few years out from course completion.

According to the Grattan Institute’s recent report, ‘Especially for low-ATAR men, some vocational alternatives to university are worth considering’. It can be said that employment outcomes are better for lower ATAR students when they consider TAFE (or ultimately, VET courses).

The evidence is a bit different for women, as VET does not necessarily mean better employment prospects and the nature of the labour market has an impact here.

Vocational education does get overlooked in careers advice. But VET is less attractive for women than for men, if pay is a significant factor in course choice.

The VET sector still suffers from an identity crisis of sorts, and is not given the airtime or focus it deserves.

With a renewed focus on VET, from both sides of the political spectrum, espousing the benefits of a healthy VET sector will only help to secure long term policy initiatives and industry-wide discussions.

Microcredentials and the Need For Reform?

We’ve been spruiking microcredentials for months now, and not just because our provider network is seeing the benefits of shorter qualifications.

Since 2015, there has been a decline in enrolments across all qualification levels in VET, and with almost 2.5 million students enrolled in stand-alone subjects or subjects not part of nationally recognised programs (a 4.9% increase from 2017), we can see where the growth is coming from.

More and more education providers are offering micro-credentials, as well as universities, who are diversifying their offerings with shorter, online courses, such as Monash Online’s single unit courses.

Until the AQF catches up with fresh approaches evident across the Tasman and around the world, Australia’s credentialing system risks become every bit as out of date as a video store owner hunting for emails on his BlackBerry.

Rod Clune
The New Daily

Providers such as Academy Xi are offering cutting edge, skill specific courses in IT, Data and emerging tech, and the breadth and scope of industry specific courses is expected to continue to grow.

Deloitte’s higher Education Report from 2018 has stated that:

“Micro-credentials can be developed more quickly than larger programs, and can therefore be more responsive to changing employer and industry requirements.”

The most recent ITEC19 Conference in August also included discussions around the role of micro-learning and micro-credentials. We can surely benefit from more discussion around shorter qualifications as the nature of work undergoes drastic changes.


VET was at the forefront of most recent COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting on August 9th.

The Prime Minister, State and Territory leaders have committed to a VET system that responds to the needs of the future population, including:

  • Ensuring that private and public sectors have a highly skilled workforce
  • Flexible learning
  • Robust system of both public and private providers

A ‘shared vision’ for VET reform was reached, including the establishment of a new skills council.

Morrison was quick to comment in the lead up to COAG, saying “My message to those young people, or those who are elsewhere engaged in the technical education system, is TAFE is as good as uni. TAFE education is as good as uni.”

While Morrison’s comments were focused on TAFE exclusively, the ‘vision’ that was published off the back of COAG explicitly mentions that, “All jurisdictions acknowledge the importance of a viable and robust system of both public and private providers..”

The published document goes on to state that “We need to promote the career options that require VET so we can meet the skills needs of the labour market “

Off the back of COAG, there are also calls for a renewed focus on apprenticeships and traineeship numbers in particular, which are said to have fallen to a ten year low.

A ‘vision’ and direction is a much needed initiative across the VET sector. However, when ‘TAFE’ is singled out by politicians as the only viable choice, it ignores the importance of private education providers, who delivered 71% of all nationally recognised training packages in 2018. It’s no wonder that VET suffers inconsistent coverage and focus on the national stage when we neglect to address the wider vocational space alongside higher education.


With the release of NCVER’s 2018 enrolment data, some interesting insights have come to the fore, which we touched on briefly in our special coverage.

Some key takeaways:

  • An estimated 22.7% of the Australian resident population aged 15 – 64 years took part in nationally recognised VET in 2018
  • Compared to 2017, student numbers decreased by 1.5% to 4.1 million in 2018
  • There was a decrease in students enrolled in nationally recognised programs by 5.9% to 2 million in 2018
  • In 2018, there were 4,675 RTOs listed on the National Training Register; a 4.4% drop from 4,892 providers in 2017.

The decline in enrolments in government funded courses is a trend that we’re keen to follow, especially since both industry and government aim to tackle the nation’s skills shortages off the back of COAG.

Unsurprisingly, Business Services and Community Services Training Packages remain the most popular training packages.

The top 10 enrolments by Training Package qualifications:

  • CHC33015 – Certificate III in Individual Support
  • CHC30113 – Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care
  • CHC50113 – Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care
  • BSB30115 – Certificate III in Business
  • FSK20113 – Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways
  • TAE40116 – Certificate IV Training and Assessment
  • BSB51915 – Diploma of Leadership and Management
  • BSB20115 – Certificate II in Business
  • SIT20316 – Certificate II in Hospitality
  • SIS30315 – Certificate III in Fitness

What’s important to note is that with 4.1 million students enrolled in the VET sector in 2018, compared with 1.3 million in higher education – VET is just as important to include in conversations.

What’s Next?

If the flurry of activity since the election is anything to go by, the tertiary sector looks like it’s going to have an interesting six to twelve months.

What we haven’t covered in this piece and what will surely continue to impact the space over the next few months:

  • VET completions: Low completion rates in initiatives such as Victoria’s FREE TAFE scheme– what this will mean for funding arrangements in the long term?
  • EdTech: How technology is going to continue to impact the education sector
  • Slow Wage growth: Slow growth and fear of recession – what impact will this have on the education sector?

How will the Coalition government fare through the rest of their term and how will the space continues to adapt?

We’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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