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.
Similar to recent reports and following the release of the Joyce Report earlier this year, government spokespeople have been highlighting that VET (Vocational Education and Training) courses are the better option for many prospective students out in the market.
Senator Cash encouraged more people to take on VET qualifications, saying that it’s a better path to a good income, and because the skills you learn in vocational courses are in-demand in Australia.
Investing in VET does make economic sense for Australia.
Australia’s national skills shortage can most definitely be helped through vocational courses, such as the regional demand for healthcare professionals and increasing need for aged care professionals.
In addition, by choosing a field in demand, graduates become more valuable employees, enjoying higher salaries and benefits as companies compete to hire and keep them.
VET vs University
It’s easy, however, to look at this simplistically, and the argument is much more nuanced than ‘VET is better than University’.
VET qualifications are typically shorter than University degrees, and many of the more expensive courses are often partially, if not completely subsidised.
There are also reports that have pointed out that vocational graduates earn, on average,
than University graduates.
For those interested in learning and pursuing a field of knowledge, a University degree is an incredibly valuable gateway to a wider world of education. Employment prospects are not solely determined by whether you choose a VET course or University, rather, they depend upon the subject you choose: in-demand industries like IT and Health will always have better job prospects than low-demand ones with high competition, regardless of the level of qualification.
For those looking for work-ready skills, VET qualifications can, however, be the better option. That said, the changing demands of the workforce have meant that universities are also diversifying their offerings, and micro-credential / short course providers are growing in popularity as well.
What we are hearing from employers is that we need to ensure that you have work-ready employees from day one… that is exactly what vocational education is going to give you – for both the employee and yourself as the employer.
– Senator Cash
Given that the workforce is in a state of flux, a University education may not always be the only option when looking for work ready skills.
A recent 2015 survey in the Future Leaders Index: Careers and Employment, undertaken by BDO Australia, found that over two-thirds of graduates had stated that their degree didn’t prepare them enough to find a job in their field. This is compared to the 78% of VET graduates that did find employment in the same year. That said, employment levels and salaries tend to even out for VET and University grads a few years out from course completion. Right out of the gate, though, VET qualifications are paid more and have a better chance of finding jobs.
Most Employable Degrees and Qualifications
Projections from the Department of Education show that most jobs in the next 5 years (2019-2023) will require a post-secondary qualification. Out of the 10 fastest growing occupations, 7 of these, as a minimum, require a vocational level qualification.
Source: Australian Government Department of Jobs and Small Business: National, State and Territory Skill Shortage Information
VET qualifications are fundamental to industry areas that are trade-focused, such as construction and construction services. That said, a University level qualification can too lead to employment in the majority of the above fields.
How much does it cost to undertake a VET qualification? Is VET cheaper than University?
VET courses usually cost significantly less than university degrees. And with high HELP debts on the rise, students are considering whether University is worthwhile, given that they’re graduating with considerable debt.
The average owing HELP (formerly HECs) debt in Australia is $21,557, but debts over $50,000 have increased 30% from 2018’s data, and there are now 9x more debts over $100k than there were 10 years ago.
Depending on state or federal funding availability, eligible vocational courses in skill shortage areas can often be fully subsidised.
Looking at these numbers alone, VET courses do seem like an attractive choice.
High Paying Jobs = Uni Degree?
According to The NCVER, ‘When compared with employment outcomes for university graduates, VET continues to produce superior results, and has proven itself to be a more flexible, accessible and adaptable platform for educating and skilling Australians than university education. Importantly, given the rising cost of formal education, VET is also a more cost effective training option for both businesses and individuals.’
But what about the high paying jobs that require a University level education?
It is said that a University degree education will give you greater earning potential throughout your working life, but there is no guarantee here.
According to the Career Development Association of Australia :
… we know that once you’re in [some organisations], there is a ceiling that you can pass through if you have a degree, which you can’t pass through if you don’t have a degree.
The report above has also gone on to state the those with degrees had lower rates of unemployment across their working lives, and therefore more money.
Senator Cash’s statement does not address the fact that University leavers can also have healthy career prospects.
However, inaccurate perceptions about vocational education still persist in the national discourse, and if we’re focused on the needs of the workforce, VET does seem to have considerably favourable employment outcomes.
If we address the most pressing needs of the workforce and skills shortages facing Australia, all the research seems to point that vocational education does seem to come out on top.
Cash’s statement shows that there needs to be a continued assessment and discourse on how we can best address student needs and the future workforce.