1.2 Other pathways

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Other groups identified by the Panel from which greater numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could and should be entering the higher education system include the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce and VET students.

Notwithstanding the importance of the secondary school pipeline, the VET Sector connection and the pathways for the existing Indigenous workforce into higher education and the professions continue to be important (Anderson 2011, p. 27).

As with schools, the Panel believes that it is important to look at and make recommendations in these areas as they relate to higher education, because they are all important potential pathways into university.

[W]e need realistic exciting ways of building effective pathways into university, particularly for those young adults who did not find their school experience rewarding or attractive (submission no. 14, James Cook University, p. 1).

1.2.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce

Workplaces are a key avenue for acquiring new skills, knowledge, and training. Investing in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employee’s education provides ongoing personal benefits to the individual, long-term economic benefits to workplaces, benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the development of a better skilled, more efficient labour force across multiple industry sectors.

It is worthwhile targeting people who have been working in a relevant field because they bring experience and add new perspectives to their learning.

If staff and trainees are able to retain their employment while studying, they are likely to incorporate the skills and understanding in their everyday work so there is an immediate benefit to their clients and the community. These workers have a positive effect on the motivation of young Aboriginal people to go to university by showing that it is both possible and worthwhile – they become role models and mentors (submission no. 51, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, p. 2).

The Panel believes that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce is well placed to produce a pool of university-ready candidates. This is particularly true of the public service and community sectors.

Current situation

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander labour force participation is improving

Over recent years labour force participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been steadily improving.

Between 1994 and 2008 labour force participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 64 increased from 54.5% to 64.5% (SCRGSP 2011b, p. 4.67).

During the same period, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 years and over, the level of mean gross weekly equivalised household income they received increased from $422 to $580,43 suggesting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are gaining access to higher-paying, more secure employment (SCRGSP 2011b, p. 4.102).

There are significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public sector, community sector and private sector employees with the capacity to undertake higher education

Public sector

Both at the national and state and territory levels the public sector is a significant employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for around 2.1% of all Australian Public Service (APS) employees (APSC 2011, p. 164, Table 7.1). As a party to the COAG National Partnership on Indigenous Economic Participation, the Commonwealth has agreed to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment across the Commonwealth public sector to 2.7% by 2015 ( DEEWR 2011c).

In 2009–10, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represented 2% of all state and territory public service employees (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 10). Across this overall cohort, however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staffing levels varied considerably. Within the Victorian Public Service, just over 1% of the workforce was Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (State Services Authority 2010, p. 11, Table 2.2), while the NT Public Service had an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment rate of 8.1% (OCPE 2010, Figure 30). Noting that the proportion of Victoria’s working-age (15–64 years old) population that is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is only 0.6%, in contrast to 26.6% in the Northern Territory, these figures need to be looked at in this context ( ABS 2012a).

Taking the Australia Public Service as an example, there are significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS employees with the potential to undertake a new higher education qualification (APSC 2010, p. 104, Table 57). In 2010, almost 35% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS workforce reported an undergraduate diploma or lower as their highest educational qualification.44 This cohort represents a large pool of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS employees who could potentially undertake an undergraduate degree. In 2010, a further 12% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS workforce reported a bachelor’s degree or postgraduate diploma as their highest educational qualification. This cohort represents a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the potential to re-engage in further education, including HDR study. (Notably, almost 52% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS employees reported no data against their highest educational qualification, meaning that the actual sizes of the potential undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts are subject to significant variations (APSC 2010, p. 104, Table 57).)

Community sector

The community sector is another potential field from which high numbers of new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students could be enrolled.

Across the community sector, significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees provide vital services in policy development, public engagement, client support, research and financial administration without relevant university qualifications. In the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, for example, there are many experienced Aboriginal caseworkers who would like to qualify and work as psychologists (submission no. 51, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, p. 1).

In many cases, these paraprofessionals have developed their academic skills, governance capabilities and leadership qualities through non-accredited on-the-job training. If accredited training has been completed, it is often a low-level VET qualification.

Private sector

The private sector has driven the main growth in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander labour force participation in recent years (Gray & Hunter 2011, cited in Taylor et al. 2011, p. 13). At the 2006 Census, 74.2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a job were employed by the private sector, compared with 25.8% employed by the public sector ( ABS 2006). Through initiatives such as Reconciliation Action Plans and the Australian Employment Covenant, many in the private sector have shown an interest in building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce, and have developed and implemented strategies to do so.

This growth and commitment highlights the importance of engaging the private sector in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to undertake undergraduate and postgraduate study.

What is being done to encourage public, private and community sector employees to undertake higher education?

What is government doing?

Within the public sector individual departments and agencies have developed their own strategies to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to undertake higher education. For example, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations ( DEEWR) provides study assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees employed under their collective agreement, which includes study leave of up to 15 hours per week and reimbursement of approved financial assistance up to the maximum of $3,000 a year ( DEEWR 2012, p. 2). As far as the Panel is aware, no research has been conducted that looks at the levels of study assistance across departments and agencies. Anecdotally, DEEWR is considered to have a generous study assistance policy.

What is business doing?

Many companies are seeing the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education and working with communities and universities to support Aboriginal students.

The mining industry has been particularly active in working to upskill its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to meet the existing and future skills needs of the sector. In its submission to the Review, the Minerals Council of Australia outlined several member company initiatives that support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees. Most of these were to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to move from school, VET or higher education into a job with the sector, and there were some initiatives that supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to undertake a degree in the form of generous scholarships.

The Panel has not, however, found much evidence of programs run by businesses that assist their existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to undertake higher education.

What needs to change?

Better and clearer pathways for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce into higher education

Like VET students coming from the school system, paraprofessionals are often marginalised in lower-level courses and graduate without qualifications that would assist them to move to professional and/or managerial positions. The government and higher education sector need to work with VET providers and employers in the public, community and private sectors to raise awareness of and create easy-to-access programs and pathways into higher education for their employees, whether to a first degree for paraprofessionals or postgraduate study for people who have already completed an undergraduate degree.

Articulation pathways would be easier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers to understand and navigate if they were more clearly defined (submission no. 63, Health Workforce Australia, p. 3).

The Business Council of Australia currently conducts research on corporate sector best practice to recruit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into employment. The Panel believes that this research needs to be built on and expanded to look at best practice pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees into higher education while still working. In this way, best practice programs can be shared and replicated across Australia’s corporate sector.

Building on existing efforts

Both the National Australia Bank and BHP Billiton, in partnership with the Melbourne Business School and the Australian Government, support an Indigenous MBA scholarship for eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants. A condition of both scholarships is that the applicant must have had at least two years’ full-time work experience, which encourages those already in the workforce to apply.

More support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to undertake higher education

A lack of assistance in terms of financial support and flexible work arrangements from government and employers often acts as a barrier to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees considering higher education. Employers need to understand the benefits of their employees undertaking higher education, such as improved skills and knowledge, and to provide appropriate support.

A large proportion of Health Workers reported their interest in pursuing higher education. However, some are hindered by barriers to accessing education and training ... [L]imited access to required funding, leave and family support/obligations can hinder an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander person meeting their aspirational educational goals (submission no. 63, Health Workforce Australia, p. 2).

A number of written submissions reiterated the importance of workplaces as places of learning, and of the need to develop stronger pathways between the workforce and higher education sectors.45 Many of these submissions stressed the importance of developing programs that allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to pursue university qualifications while remaining in full-time employment or receiving a full-time equivalent wage. The Panel notes that a number of employers in the corporate, community and government sectors provide cadetships to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to help them into employment during their study or once they have graduated,46 but not to study at university while already employed. The Panel believes that employers should place greater emphasis on developing existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.

There have been successful initiatives to increase the number of Aboriginal students in Higher Education through the Aboriginal Cadetship Program ... Commonwealth funding supports undergraduate Aboriginal students and [the NSW Government Department of Family and] Community Services provides these students with placements during university breaks and guaranteed employment after graduation.

A similar scheme to the Cadetship Program is needed for mature Aboriginal people already working in relevant fields (submission no. 51, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, p. 2).

Recognition of prior learning for paraprofessionals

The Panel believes that universities should consider ways to provide greater flexibility for recognised prior learning and experience among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. One way to encourage them to study may be to provide greater recognition of their often considerable work experience in certain sectors. For example, there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the health and education sectors without any higher education qualifications but with decades of on-the-job experience.

Any assessment and recognition of prior learning or experience would, of course, need to adhere to quality standards.

1.2.2 Vocational education and training

Unlike the higher education sector, VET providers have a proven record of enrolling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in VET courses in numbers that reflect population parity. This can be both a benefit and a drawback for the higher education sector—a benefit when higher-level VET courses are used as a launching pad into university for students without the existing academic preparedness for direct entry, and a drawback when VET acts as a diversion from higher education. With the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in and completing low-level VET courses—82.1% of completions in 2010 were for Certificate I–III qualifications ( NCVER 2010, Table 4)—that do not facilitate entry to university, VET is typically a diversion from higher education.

Whilst it is acknowledged that alternative entry and other pathways are critical elements for assisting Indigenous access to [higher education], a significant number of Indigenous students are precluded from gaining [higher education] admission via articulation through VET due to the level of their VET qualification ( DEEWR 2008; DEST 2006, both cited in submission no. 75, Charles Darwin University, p. 1).

The critical first step to unlocking the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students is to ensure that they are enrolling in and completing higher-level VET courses (Certificate IV and above). Only then will VET-to-university pathways be successful.

Current situation

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are more likely to enrol in a VET course than non-Indigenous students

Analysis by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research shows that in 2010, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were eight times more likely to be enrolled in a VET course than a university course, whereas non-Indigenous Australians were two times more likely. Within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population itself, the proportion of working-age adults47 enrolled in a VET institution in 2010 was 23%, compared to just 3% in a university (Taylor et al. 2011, p. viii).

There are a number of possible reasons why the VET sector is more successful in enrolling higher proportionate numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One reason may be that lower entry requirements make VET a more accessible study option for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who lack the academic qualifications and aspirations to undertake university-level study. It may also be that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are actively drawn to VET by its method of study, its curricular content, or the career options that a VET qualification provides. According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research ( NCVER) Student Outcomes Survey 2011, the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students undertook VET training for employment-related (74.8%) or personal development (23.0%) reasons. Only 2.2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students listed their motivation for undertaking VET study as entry into another course of study ( VET, university or otherwise). In comparison, 80.6% of non-Indigenous students undertook VET training for employment-related reasons, 15.0% for personal development reasons and 4.5% to get into another course of study ( NCVER 2011, Table 9).

There is also evidence that indicates the popularity of VET study may be in part due to geographical availability. ‘A total of 49 cities and towns across Australia host a university or one of its campuses and offer degree-level courses … [I]t is significant to note that only 44 per cent of Indigenous people live within one of these 49 cities and towns compared to 73 per cent of the non-Indigenous population’ (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 21). In contrast, VET institutions are almost everywhere across Australia, with almost all localities having some physical presence of a VET institution or provider.

Students have also indicated a preference to earn money for themselves and their families, and that the pursuit of a vocational education pathway allows them to ‘learn as you earn’ (Hossain et al. 2008, pp. 22–3). This immediate economic incentive contrasts starkly with the long-term commitment and significant financial cost associated with enrolment in higher education.

VET can act as a diversion from higher education

While the high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students represents a significant pool of people who can transition into higher education, VET may in fact be contributing to low university enrolments by diverting university-capable students away from higher education.

As noted above, by age 17 there are more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in VET than in school, reducing the potential pool of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are placed to access a direct school-to-university pathway.

During consultations the Panel found there was a view that government-developed funding arrangements like Job Services Australia ( JSA) may be providing an incentive that pushes capable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people towards a VET qualification instead of higher education study. This appears to stem from a misunderstanding of how JSA works.

Under the JSA program, JSA providers can receive outcome payments from the government for job seekers who complete Qualifying Education Course milestones. A Qualifying Education Course can be accredited training or higher education, must be full-time study (unless a job seeker is considered a Principal Carer Parent), is normally of two or more semesters in duration over a 12-month period, and is approved for Austudy or Youth Allowance (Student) or ABSTUDY purposes.

There is nothing to prevent a JSA provider placing a job seeker into a tertiary course (including some masters and doctorate-level courses) longer than 12 months and claiming an outcome payment after the job seeker has successfully completed the first semester, and again after they complete a second semester, even if the job seeker ceases income support or transfers to ABSTUDY, Youth Allowance (Student) or Austudy as a result of their studies. However, the Panel notes that JSA is not designed to be a normal pathway to higher education.

Almost 80% of the over 72,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have commenced with JSA are in Streams 3 and 4 ( DIISRTE 2012b), meaning they have severe barriers to employment which often include literacy and numeracy issues, and which would translate into even greater barriers to higher education. The Panel also notes that for the Stream 1 candidates, who are more likely to have the capacity to undertake higher education (there were only 3,814 as at March 2012), there is little incentive for JSA providers to place them in any kind of education and training (including VET) because there are no outcome payments available to JSA providers for placing Stream 1 job seekers into education and training in the first 12 months of a job seeker’s unemployment.

The Panel does not believe that a change to the structure of outcome payments will greatly improve the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander JSA clients who participate in university. Rather, universities should focus on reaching students while still at school and encouraging them to undertake higher education, including providing information on non-direct entry pathways into higher education like enabling courses, before they become unemployed.

Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrol in and complete low-level VET courses, and are more likely to do so than non-Indigenous students

In the VET sector, successful completion of higher-level qualifications (Certificate IV and above) are more likely to provide the bridging skills and pathways to higher education. Between 2002 and 2009, VET course enrolments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students increased by 30%. However, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander course enrolments at Certificate IV and above decreased from 11.4% in 2002 (8,912 course enrolments) to 9.4% (9,858 course enrolments) in 2009. In this period, the majority of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander course enrolments remained in Certificate I, II and III courses (internal DEEWR data derived from NCVER 2010).48

In 2010, the overwhelming majority (82.1%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander completions were for Certificate I–III qualifications. In contrast, completions in Certificate IV accounted for only 12.5% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET completions, and diploma-level and above completions (including advanced diplomas, graduate certificates, and diploma or higher) combined to account for only 5.4% of all completions. There were no completions in associate degrees, bachelor degrees or graduate diplomas. In comparison, 66.9% of non-Indigenous completions were for Certificate I–III, 19.1% for Certificate IV, and 14.1% for diploma-level and above completions (with no completions in associate degrees) ( NCVER 2010, Table 4).

In many cases, Certificate level courses lead to beneficial and appropriate training and employment pathways for Indigenous students, but the low numbers of Indigenous students in higher level courses is worrying. Lower level certificate courses do not typically provide articulation pathways into higher education (submission no. 16, Group of Eight, p. 11).

Pathways from VET are not leading to higher education

The Panel found there is evidence that the VET sector is not providing a pathway into higher education for large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET graduates, even when they are completing higher-level courses.

NCVER data shows that in 2011, 4.0% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students reported being enrolled in university six months after completing their training, compared to 6.7% of non-Indigenous students ( NCVER 2011, Table 9).

A core reason behind this may be that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students do not often undertake VET study for the purpose of transitioning into higher education.

Other barriers to a successful transition from VET into higher education include a lack of awareness about how to transition and an inconsistent approach to credit transfer arrangements. These were well documented in public submissions.49

Much of the analysis that has been done about pathway arrangements between VET and higher education, and credit transfer in particular, has found them to be problematic (PhillipsKPA 2006, cited in Bradley et al. 2008, p. 181). The Bradley Review noted that ‘[v]arious efforts to strengthen the connections between higher education and VET have been made in Australia over the last twenty-five years with limited success, due to structural rigidities as well as differences in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment’ (2008, p. 179).

Without effective pathway arrangements between courses and institutions, the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students to transition to higher education is minimised, as is the capacity of the sector more broadly to develop a pool of potential university candidates.

[T]he key to boosting participation in higher education by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is to improve pathways from VET, and to ensure that good support structures are in place during and post-transition (submission no. 24, Swinburne University of Technology, p. 5).

Notably, some universities show greater success than others in recruiting students from the VET sector. The top five universities in terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students admitted on the basis of a VET award course in 2010 are RMIT University (33.3%), Charles Sturt University (32.8%), La Trobe University (29.4%), University of Tasmania (26.1%) and Swinburne University of Technology (23.1%) ( DIISRTE 2012a).50 Two of these ( RMIT and Swinburne) are dual-sector institutions.

What is currently being done to help VET students to transition to higher education?

Government

In 2009, the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, through COAG, signed up to the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development. The agreement aims to ensure that all working-age Australians, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in particular, have the opportunity to develop the skills and qualifications that will enable them to participate in, and contribute to, the modern labour market. Two of the targets contained in the agreement are to:

  • halve the proportion of people aged 20 to 64 without a Certificate III or above
  • double the number of people completing diploma and advanced diploma qualifications.

A new framework of objectives and principles for a reformed national VET system was adopted by COAG at its meeting on 19 August 2011. The framework will be used to guide the development of reform directions for consideration by COAG in 2012. Two of the key themes of the framework are encouraging increased participation in higher-level qualifications and the importance of strengthened pathways between the higher education and VET sectors ( COAG Reform Council 2011, p. 35).

Higher education sector

A number of universities have taken steps to improve pathways between VET and higher education by becoming dual-sector institutions (universities that offer VET qualifications), by using VET qualifications as entry points to bachelor programs or by providing credit transfer arrangements for units completed through VET.

What needs to change?

While VET is not currently used successfully as a pathway into higher education for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, it holds potential to unlock the capacity of a pool of students who are already engaged in learning.

The Panel believes that governments, schools, the higher education sector and the VET sector must work together to:

  • encourage university-capable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to seek entry into university
  • ensure that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolling in a VET qualification understand the higher education options available to them post- VET
  • encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who are unable to access university through direct entry to enrol in higher-level VET courses that enable their later transition to university
  • promote VET to higher education pathway arrangements like credit transfer articulation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students who do not have the literacy and numeracy skills to undertake higher-level VET courses to get the skills they need.

Stronger relationships between TAFE and Universities provide positive platforms for students to progress through to higher education (submission no. 28, University of Newcastle, p. 4).

The Panel again notes the importance of personal aspiration and support to a successful transition from VET to higher education. Aspiration and adequate support from teachers, career advisers, family and friends, and higher education providers are vital to ensuring that school students make the choice to attend university over VET. They are also vital to helping VET students make the decision to pursue higher education after they complete their qualification.

Improve understanding of pathways to higher education

Like in schools, VET teacher and career adviser quality and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are important factors in driving successful educational outcomes, including whether or not a student transitions from VET to university.

Unless these teachers and career advisers are more culturally aware, support student aspiration through high expectations, and make their students aware of the options available to them, it is unlikely the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students transitioning to university will grow. Universities and VET institutions educating and training VET teachers and career advisers need to ensure that they are providing them with the skills sets and knowledge to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student aspiration and transition to higher education, should they choose to take that path.

Universities also need to ensure that they are working closely with VET institutions to provide information to teachers and students about pathways to higher education at multiple points—when students make enquiries about enrolling in a VET course, when they enrol, during the course, and once they have completed it.

Support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to enrol in higher-level VET courses

The Panel believes that there is opportunity for the VET sector to encourage and support students to gain higher-level qualifications of Certificate IV and above, and to work closely with universities to ensure that these qualifications can translate to entry into higher education.

[Articulation] pathways (from Advanced Diploma, Diploma and Certificate IV courses) are an increasingly important route into higher education, especially for people who did not have access to high quality schooling earlier in life, who underperformed at school, or who had not considered university as a realistic option (submission no. 16, Group of Eight, p. 11).

Building on existing efforts

The Panel notes the work of the Victorian Government—through its VET policy framework for Indigenous communities (Wurreker Strategy) and Tertiary Education Access Plan, and the Victorian Skills Commission’s dedicated VET Access and Equity Advisory Committee—to improve VET access, participation and outcomes for Aboriginal students ( DEEWR 2010a, pp. 20–1), including raising qualification levels. These strategies see successful VET outcomes in higher-level qualifications as an important part of raising the numbers of Victorians entering the higher education system, particularly those who do not currently meet entry criteria (DIIRD, p. 8), and form part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development.

Improve pathway arrangements from VET to higher education

A number of submissions to the Review outlined arrangements of particular universities and dual-sector institutions51 for providing pathways between VET and higher education in particular disciplines, ranging from using a VET qualification as an entry point to a university degree, to giving credit for VET units completed towards elective university courses, and towards non-elective university courses. The Panel notes the work of these institutions but, given the low number of VET students who transition to higher education, believes that more work needs to be done to improve the effectiveness of pathways between VET and higher education in addition to increasing the numbers of VET students in higher-level courses.

The Panel notes that the Tertiary Education Quality and Pathways Principal Committee of the Standing Council on Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment ( SCOTESE)52 has been tasked with looking at pathways to higher education with a view to improving the transition between qualifications and education sectors, and will report to SCOTESE on developing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Pathways Action Plan in June 2012. The Panel believes that it would be beneficial to add to this research by engaging IHEAC to work with the National VET Equity Advisory Council to look at pathways from VET to higher education from an Indigenous-specific perspective.

Building on existing efforts

One initiative referred to in the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Northern Region Local Aboriginal Land Councils’ submission involves the ‘mapping of TAFE competencies onto [ University of New England] degree offerings … to [develop] a seamless progression through the tiers of the education hierarchy, with multiple entry and exit points, each with a formal qualification attached’ (submission no. 23, NSW Aboriginal Land Council Northern Region Local Aboriginal Land Councils, p. 4).

As a dual-sector institution, the University of Notre Dame (a Table B higher education provider) has developed the VET Pathways in Nursing and Education program that provides multiple course entry and exit points to enable students to gain VET and higher education qualifications. After completing courses at the Certificate II, III or IV level, students can gain entry to bachelor programs in nursing and education.

Improve geographical access to higher education using the VET system

Because many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in regional and remote areas, they have limited access to the higher education institutions and campuses that are located in just 49 cities and towns across Australia (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 21). VET providers can play a role in filling geographical gaps by working with universities to deliver credentialed units of study.

The Panel found that some universities have made arrangements to use Technical and Further Education ( TAFE) or other VET provider facilities in the delivery of university courses in rural and remote areas. Some dual-sector institutions have also located some of their VET courses in different cities or towns to their main university campus to give their institution a better geographical reach.

The issue of geographical access is not limited to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, but is an issue for the broader university sector, with many non-Indigenous students also living in regional and remote areas. Working with VET providers to improve geographical access to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students will be of benefit to the broader higher education sector and its students.

Building on existing efforts

In December 2011, the University of Ballarat received $24.8 million from the Australian Government to make higher education programs available in regions and locations isolated from post-secondary opportunities and too distant from the University of Ballarat’s six campuses through a partnership between the University of Ballarat and six regional Victorian TAFE institutes known as the ‘Victorian Regional Dual-Sector University Partnership’ (submission no. 29, University of Ballarat, p. 5). Through this partnership ‘[t]he University will recognise work experience, diplomas and advanced diplomas as pre-requisites for entry into the final years of degrees to be delivered at TAFE based higher education centres, creating a new pathway into higher education’ (Evans & King 2011).

Charles Sturt University’s TAFE Pathways and Partnerships program has built on the university’s existing relationship with the VET sector to establish a series of university study centres in rural locations53 that provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with increased exposure to higher education opportunities.

Recommendations

Recommendation 6

That universities and the vocational education and training ( VET) sectors:

  • work with employers and professional associations to encourage them to support their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to undertake higher education including through cadetship models, scholarships and flexible leave arrangements
  • collaborate with professional bodies and private and public sector employers to build and extend alternative pathways into higher education, including pursuing better credit transfer arrangements between VET and universities, pursuing delivery partnerships, and ensuring that VET providers are promoting higher education as an option post- VET
  • support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to enrol in and complete higher-level (at least Certificate IV and above), but also diploma and advanced diploma-level, qualifications.

Recommendation 7

That the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council work with the National VET Equity Advisory Council to provide joint advice to governments on how to improve pathways between VET and higher education.

43 Income is expressed in 2008 dollars.

44 Respondents in this cohort include those who recorded an undergraduate diploma, associate diploma, skilled vocational qualification, basic vocational qualification, or Year 12, 11, 10 or less as their highest educational qualification.

45 For example, submissions by the University of Sydney (no. 33); Group of Eight (no. 16); Minerals Council of Australia (no. 21); Charles Darwin University (no. 75).

46 For example, submissions by the Minerals Council of Australia (no. 21) and the Government of New South Wales – Department of Family and Community Services (no. 51).

47 Aged 15 to 64.

48 It is possible for students to be enrolled in more than one course in any year.

49 For example, submissions by the Group of Eight (no. 16); Swinburne University of Technology (no. 24); University of Newcastle (no. 28); The Smith Family (no. 34); Janine Oldfield (no. 4); University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council (no. 60); University of Sydney (no. 33); Australian Government – Health Workforce Australia (no. 63); Government of New South Wales – Department of Education and Communities (no. 71); Charles Darwin University (no. 75).

50 Based on Table A providers and domestic students only.

51 Charles Darwin University, Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT University, University of Ballarat, University of Newcastle and University of Melbourne.

52 SCOTESE is part of the Council System supporting the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Its purpose ‘is to ensure that Australia’s current and future workforce needs are met through increased participation, educational attainment, skills development and skills use to achieve greater productivity’ (NATESE 2012).

53 For example, Parkes University Study Centre at Parkes, TAFE NSW – Riverina Institute at Griffith and Wagga Wagga, and TAFE NSW – Western Institute at Dubbo.