Technical and Further Education (TAFE)

Higher education and further education are two types of tertiary education (also known as post-secondary education). Higher education comprises universities and other institutions that grant bachelor’s and/or post-graduate degrees. Further education institutions typically offer diplomas and certificates (associate degrees in the US) and offer vocational courses as well as some academic courses.

Governments and the public are both keen to increase access to tertiary education in most industrialized countries, including Australia. The main way to increase access is to diversify the types of tertiary education available, rather than simply creating more universities. There are a number of ways this can be done, and the readings this week provide some international examples. As the forms of tertiary education diversify, many countries are seeing the need to make transfer between higher and further education easier. This is not without serious challenges, however, as the readings this week note.

Learning objectives: Karmel
1. What is the Australian Qualifications Framework?
2. How do the higher education and VET sectors differ from each other?
3. What is the extent of movement between the two sectors?
4. How could the two sectors be better articulated?

Learning objectives: Keating
1. What is Australia’s model of tertiary education, and how does it differ from the models in New Zealand, UK, or North America?
2. What two forces have led Australian tertiary education to be similar to continental European models?
3. How does Australian TAFE compare with its North American and European counterparts?
4. What forces are driving increased articulation between TAFE and universities in Australia? What are the challenges? What possibilities exist for the future?

Learning objectives: Bandias, Fuller and Pfitzner
1. Why should vocational and higher education be more closely linked?
2. What problems do students face when they attempt to move from vocational education to higher education?
3. What measures do the authors recommend for overcoming these obstacles?

From Belinda

This week's readings seem to have some similarities in their focus. Between the three readings, a clearer picture is forming of the TAFE system, and their relationship with the university sector. Both the public and the government have a keen interest in increasing accesss to tertiary education in Australia, therefore an expansion of the types of tertiary education already available seems to be the most viable option. With this diversity and expansion then comes a need to ease the transition between the two educational sectors, which seems to have created another set of issues entirely.

The paper from Karmel (2008) discusses many aspects of education, specifically in regard to the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), which describes the qualifications offered by the three education sectors ( schools, higher education & VET). Karmel also offers a characterisation of higher education and VET providers, characteristics of students in the higher education and VET sectors, and student movement between the two sectors. The split between higher education and vocational education and training is highlighted, with clear differences between the sectors in terms of approach, accreditation, governance and funding.

Karmel offers some very interesting statistics in relation to these differences. According to Karmel, the higher education sector is more concentrated among the schoolleavers, whilst VET accommodates all ages, with widercoverage to rural and regional areas. Transfers between sectors are noted as being quite substantial, yet small in comparison to individuals following traditional pathways to TAFE or university.

He believes that total integration between sectors is not possible (p16), and his suggestions for closer integration between sectors include not letting the university take over but rather build on the VET sector to make better use of its wide coverage.

From Bree

This week the reading’s main issue relates to accessing the Australian tertiary education system and the desire for improvement in the link between vocational educational and training (VET) and higher education (HE).

Karmel (2008) indicates there is an invested interest in improving credit transfer from VET to HE with a purpose to highlight VET as having an advantage over HE. There is minimal detail regarding movement from HE to VET in the article. I agree with Karmel (2008) that the VET sector provides greater coverage and access to equity groups. There is limited discussion regarding the lack of financial incentive and the VET sector not being regulated as a national curriculum in this article. I can relate to universities being resistive to support and encourage advanced standing when there is no national curriculum and minimum financial incentive when this article was published. I value the improvements since the establishment of the national regulation of the VET sector in 2011 (Australian Skills Quality Authority, 2013) and believe this is one less barrier towards credit transfer. There was minimal documentation in the article that reflects the VET sector has a variable qualification outcome and the quality of these outcomes was not discussed in detail.

Keating (2006) presents the idea that due to HE degrees being in demand, they are therefore demanding higher fees. This has led to some universities of lower status embracing a strategic relationship with the TAFE sector. This suggests a positive influence on credit transfer and reform from VET to HE. However, Keating (2006) also identifies that the knowledge of prior TAFE studies may not be appropriate for HE. Keating provides insight to “the amount of advanced standing that is given by universities for previous VET studies is also difficult to estimate” (2006, p. 68). However Keating (2006) was able to elaborate that only 17% of students with TAFE studies received credit for their studies. Keating (2006) embraces that the current system does require change, that there is a focus of HE and VET serving the post school system and that the movement from HE to VET is unacknowledged. I feel this article provides a view that is not bias towards the HE or VET sector and delivered statistical evidence to justify the need for a reform.

Bandias, Fuller and Pfitzner (2011) provide examples of the efforts made between HE and VET that have had limited success due to the current framework. The current system is described as being “rarely perceived as uncomplicated” (Bandias et al., 2011, p. 591). Common problems for transitioning students are expressed in this article with claims that these students are performing as well or even better than others. Once again the take home message from this article is improvement into the current system of advanced standing for VET to HE students is essential.

The theme emerging from this week’s readings sends a clear message that the tertiary education sector should be reformed so the pathways between the VET and HE sectors benefit students. The pattern of recommendations across these three articles suggest funding review and support; improved access to data on student progression and movement between sectors; and a broader consistency in approach to credit transfer will create success in achieving greater access and participation in HE qualifications.

Australian Skills Quality Authority. (2013). National VET regulation. Retrieved from

Karmel, T. (2008). Reflections on the tertiary education sector in Australia. Adelaide: National Centre For Vocational Education Research.

Keating, J. (2006). Post-school articulation in Australia: a case of unresolved tensions. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30(1), 59-74.

Bandias, S., Fuller, D., & Pfitzner, D. (2011). Vocational and higher education in Australia: a need for closer collaboration. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 33(6), 583- 594.

Belinda QUESTION 1. After analysing comparisons of various characteristics between sectors, Karmel (2008 p9) states that the VET sector of education is "rightly characterised as the 'second chance' sector (Karmel & Woods 2008)". What do you think of this statement?

My response
In regards to the Karmel paper we can identify the Australian Qulifications Framework which describes the qualifications offered by higher education sectors, recognising that the split between higher edcuation (universities) and vocational education and training (VET) is not always clean. Some VET institutions offer graduate diplomas, some universities offer diplomas.

The table provided on p7, which lists the two classes of qualification side-by-side can perhaps be viewed incorrectly. The table from Wikipedia gives a better overview.

The question is raised whether the VET sector is "rightly characterised as the 'second chance' sector". The statistical evidence is that is for a minority (see page 15), a claim most appropriate for VET graudates in the natural and physical sciences aged between 15 and 24; of whom 33.5% go on to university. The claim is weakest for agricultural and environmental studies for those aged 25+ where the number is only 1.3%.
Indeed, in all sectors the proportion of VET graduates who go on to university is always lower for older graduates than the younger group (which even in this case is always a minority). One can elaborate to suggest that older VET graduates typically take up the studies for a specific reason which is satisfied by the VET qualification. This is not so much the case for the younger graduates.

One table which is absent from the Kramer study which would have been a useful contribution is the number of graduates in lower certificates who then go on to do higher certificates or VET diplomas.

The research of Keating (2006) discusses the relationship between post-school education and secondary schooling in Australia, highlighting the impact of economic policies on the education system, the dominant forces being changes in the labour market and economic competitiveness. The paper also analyses the problematic foundations of the articulation process in Australia, suggesting some possible solutions to the present dilemma facing education. Keating's predictions for the future of education include elements of the VET sector remaining largely with industrial training, with some TAFE institutes wanting to move beyond the current standardized system and the AQF outliving its usefulness.

Belinda QUESTION 2. Keating's research (p63 Figure 1) shows that TAFE in Victoria is seen by school leavers as an option mainly for low achievers. What could be done to improve the way school leavers perceive TAFE studies?

My Response
Keating does an excellent job at providing an overview of the distinction of the university/VET divide, noting (following Moodie, 2005) that the Australian system has similarity with the European system where "universities provide general education for the high status occupations, and the VET sector specializes in skill development for the workplace". With such an institutionalised class-based orientation it is almost inevitable that the "lowest achieving students were most likely to regard TAFE as being mainly for low achievers".

Whilst it would be a difficult process, breaking down the institutional distinction between the VET and University sector would be beneficial. This would not mean, of course, that the University sector would give up any of the degree offerings that it currently provides, or the entrance requirements for degree studies. It should mean however that some of the vocational orientation and on-the-job skills, currently performed in the VET sector, would have a role in the University sector as well. In this sens the concluding remarks from Karmel (2008) are worth thinking in terms in the context of the Keating paper. However Karmel does say that that total integration is not possible, as the Universities would not give up their self-accrediting powers and industry would not give up their training packages. It is deeply pessimistic however to suggest that these are totally preventative for the prospect of integration.

Response from Cavelle
What I find most interesting about that statement "lowest achieving students were most likely to regard TAFE as being mainly for low achievers" (p.63), is the low achievers would probably find TAFE the best place to be! I wonder at the 'bigger picture' and the culture that is built up around the two education systems of VET and Universities - that, as a culture, we perceive University to be for the high achievers and people who are "smart" and the VET sector as catering for all of those people who would never make it to University. Even the low achievers saw TAFE as a place for people who weren't 'smart' which places another burden on the VET sector to make itself relevant, authentic and holding its own with Universities.

I like Keating's recommendations of looking towards finding the links between the two sectors, without destroying the elements which make each sector unique. Karmel recommends this as well - I find it interesting that there is a 'warning' to Universities to not destroy what the VET sector has established, inferring that Universities are still the dominant education system and would ultimately have the say as to how the systems would be redefined.

The third reading from Bandias, Fuller & Pfitzner (2011), although short, was very informative, highlighting a number of important matters with the articulation process of Australia. With precise statistical data difficult to obtain, lack of a national consensus on university level credit transfer, and inconsistent credit transfers arrangements, closer integration between sectors seems to be inhibited by obstacles.

Belinda QUESTION 3. The review of literature in this reading highlights the need for more research into Indigenous educational pathways. What do you think could be done, if anything, to improve Indigenous transition rates between sectors?

Response from Helen
As stated in Bandias et al (2011), 'Indigenous people are vastly under-represented in higher education in Australia' The reading also highlights the fact further research needs to be done in this area. Also the locations of higher educational institutions may not meet the needs of the Indigenous people. The community and belonging to land/family is very strong within the Indigenous lifestyle. The formal city universities would not be a comfortable environment for learning. The estrangement from land, family,community and lifestyle causing the participation and retention rate to be threatened. With the availability of education within the rural, remote communities this may make higher education more attractive, for example Broome, Kunnunura. Also the methods of education to be broadened to include country, culture, dreamtime, story telling and the arts. This empowers the Indigenous people to learn within their means. Education for the individual Indigenous people needs to be extended into their community. The recognition that education can improve employability, leading to improved self-esteem, income, raising the socio-economics and improvement of family structure that brings. The employment of Indigenous assistant educators within communities is present today, but further persistance for "bridging the gap". This is paramount in promotion of education of Indigenous people at all levels from secondary, certificate through to degree level. Any improvement on present statistics is good and may just cause a 'ripple effect'.

Response from Simon
Considerations around improving transition rates between sectors for Indigenous Australia students are complex and multi-faceted and obviously, with the extensive diversity of Indigenous groups in Australia, there are real limitations to any generalisations. Having said that though, I'll wade right in and make a few generalisations here....

As a non-Aboriginal VET educator who works about half my time with Aboriginal (mostly Noongar) students and the other half, training (mostly) non-Aboriginal students to be more effective cross-cultural workers, I am always trying to make sense of the successes, challenges, opportunities and cross-cultural complexities I see every day. The most sense I have made is through the lens of cultural and social capital, and as part of that, trying to understand how the hidden curriculum (Apple 1975 and Giroux, Penna & Pinar 1981) plays out. If I look at training environments (VET, tertiary) as advantaging (and disadvantaging) certain students on the basis of the types of social and cultural (and therefore, political) capital they possess, then enrolment, attendance and completion figures can be better understood. Include hidden curiculum in that lens and then even the most day-to-day or 'procedural' aspects of engaging with formal or institutional education become powerful agents of engagement or marginalisation.

It would probably derail the discussion to go right in to lengthy explanations here, but I think if understanding the engagement of any particular cultural group is to be meaningfully understood (including how they might transition from the 'cultures' of VET institutions to those of tertiary), it has to be done from these points of view to properly expose the social, cultural and political dynamics that are impacting on groups and individuals. I readily accept that I'm just throwing this in for now from an 'experiential' point of view - I haven't got the empirical data behind me and I'm not going to worry about defining or justifying such a lens here, beyond saying it's helped me understand why certain processes at a lecturer, class, institute or community level work or don't. If you want students to complete, or to better transition from one sector to the other, there's much merit in asking what is all the other non-curricula 'stuff' they need to be able to take with them?

For an alternate, somewhat related perspective, Jaime Romo (2004) has a pretty interesting autoethnography that explores these ideas too.


Apple, M. W. (1979) Ideology and the curriculum. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Giroux, H., Penna, A and Pinar, W. (1981) Curriculum and Instruction. Berkley: McCutcheon Publishing Corporation

Romo, J., J. (2004). "Experience and Context in the Making of a Chicano Activist." The High School Journal 87 (4): 95-111.

Question from Liz

Hello everyone, another robust discussion around issues that are very important for higher ed students. I'll just pose a little question, part of which has been touched upon in your discussions. Do we really need the transitioning students to adapt to the culture of the university or TAFE. What responsibility do these sectors have in accommodating diversityand challenging their cultural capital? Well done. Regards Liz

My Response

I think there needs there needs to be a bit of a breakdown between the delivery in both TAFE and university culture. In their earlier courses TAFE courses could do with stronger theoretical grounding and university courses could do with more hands-on and apprenticeship-style mentoring.

The transitional approach to higher education should give emphasis on both freedom and responsibility. I remember (in the vague distant past) how a number of high school friends, who were quite competent in that variety, crashed and burned at university when they suddenly found themselves in a situation where a teacher wasn't forcing them to hand in assignments on time, or at all. At this was at Murdoch, which historically was very good at the transitional programme through what was called Trunk courses.

Diversity is, in my opinion, best introduced through the systematic and institutional changes which encourage a more diverse environment. From the data that we've been exposed to the most significant divergence in higher education is pretty much income and occupation based. Bringing the TAFE and university sectors closer together both institutionally and in their curriculum is probably the most important and fundamental means to overcome this historical class-based division.