The Regional Universities Network (RUN) welcomes the opportunity to comment on BCA’s paper which outlines its vision for the future of education and training in Australia and proposes new funding and administrative arrangements for the tertiary education sector. The proposed arrangements are intended to address current weaknesses such as the existing siloed approach to higher education and VET operations, and community perceptions that the VET sector offers students a less attractive education proposition than higher education. The BCA paper proposes many suggestions including the introduction of:
- A single, sector neutral funding model across the tertiary sector underpinned by government subsidy (driven by student vouchers) and student contributions. The unique identity and mission of the higher education and VET systems would be retained.
- A shared governance model that defines the roles of government and industry, establishes a body to manage the funding model and market information system, and allows governments to manage their expenditure and priorities.
Australia’s tertiary education system involves approximately 5 million students/year (including many international students) undertaking programs ranging from certificate level to doctoral qualifications; institutions of widely varying scale, mission, degree of autonomy and governance provisions; and extensive stakeholder engagement arrangements involving all levels of government, local communities, industry and professional bodies, and other education and research facilities in Australia and globally.
By providing the VET sector and its students with equivalent access to government funding and improved access to market information, the model may deliver benefits to the VET sector even after taking account of the associated costs and risks. The potential benefits for the higher education sector and its students are less clear than for the VET sector. Some of the claimed benefits (such as access by students to better information and a more seamless transition between the two sectors) are already available or under development in higher education. The proposed approach would be complex and risky to implement and impose a new, highly centralised administrative framework.
Elements of BCA’s approach have been proposed in the past but have failed to gain traction – for example, the West Review of Higher Education in the late 1990s advocated unsuccessfully for the introduction of a student learning entitlement mechanism across the tertiary sector. 2 Despite these reservations, we recognise the need for a serious conversation about tertiary education and enhancing pathways for students between the VET and higher education sectors. As noted below, RUN universities are among the leaders in this area and offer a significant share of Australia’s enabling programs. However, articulating qualifications work best in some professional disciplines such as health, IT, engineering, agriculture, marine science etc., but not so well in generalist degrees. There are many students who have a clear preference for or interest in either VET or higher education, but not both. Regional Australia needs both more higher education graduates and graduates with higher level VET qualifications.
RUN universities are committed to improving student access, participation and success. However, there still exists a significant gap in higher education attainment (and Year 12 school completion) between the regions and major cities. RUN universities are playing a leadership role within the sector, both individually and collectively. Individually, each university offers an extensive range of student-focused programs and services.