The aim of this research was to gain a better understanding of the role and function of small providers in the Australian vocational education and training (VET) system in meeting the needs of learners. Small providers — those with low numbers of students — account for almost one-third of the total, thus justifying a closer look at this segment. In 2017 there were 1130 registered training organisations (RTOs) from a total of 3573 non-school RTOs with fewer than 100 students.
We categorised RTOs into three sizes: small providers (those with fewer than 100 students enrolled in VET); medium providers (with between 100 and 999 students); and large providers (with 1000 or more students). We selected providers that were in the same size category in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Schools were excluded from our analysis as they are RTOs in only some jurisdictions. Accordingly, the findings reflect VET delivered by non-school RTOs with a stable number of students in terms of their size category between 2015 and 2017. These stable small providers made up 24% of providers in the scope of this research but had fewer than 1% of all students in 2017.
- Stable small providers play an important role in providing diversity in student choice. In every state and territory in 2017, all stable small providers combined delivered more national training package qualifications and nationally recognised accredited courses than any single stable large provider with a comparable number of enrolments.
- Stable small providers tend to deliver higher-level and more specialised programs than stable medium and large providers. A higher proportion of enrolments at stable small providers in 2017 were in Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) programs at certificate IV level and above. For example, in 2017, most enrolments in qualifications in the Funeral Services Training Package, the Diploma of Aviation (Instrument Rating) and the Advanced Diploma of Dance (Elite Performance) were with stable small providers.
- Stable small providers more often delivered highly specialised courses on a fee-for-service basis in areas where there is little or no government funding, such as the performing arts, theology, religious ministry and yoga. In many cases the providers themselves had applied to have them nationally recognised as accredited courses.
- Some stable small providers delivered highly specialised services for key equity groups. Students with a disability made up at least a quarter of students at one in 20 stable small providers (compared with one in 100 stable large providers). Similarly, Indigenous students made up at least a quarter of students at one in 20 stable small providers (compared with one in 100 stable large providers).
- Stable small providers are similar to stable medium and large providers in terms of their geographical reach, rates of graduate satisfaction, regulatory compliance, and the issues faced in reporting training data to the National VET Provider Collection.