‘Half the battle is understanding the problem’
More emphasis should be placed on developing contextual and foundational knowledge as well as building the capacity to learn, analyse and apply critical thinking and analytical skills.
Need to develop reliable and meaningful ways to measure the returns from investment in education and training for both employers and society, a complex task in a global economy. In 2009 Professor Gary Banks, then head of the Productivity Commission, explained the place of research in meeting such challenges: ‘Half the battle is understanding the problem’ (in NCVER 2010, p.8).
Exposure of problems facing tertiary education and training
The body of research produced by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) over the lifetime of the 2011—14 National Research Priorities (see figure 1) has exposed many of the problems facing tertiary education and training. With the aim of ‘understanding the problem’, the research has further investigated the persistent obstacles that policy-makers and training professionals face, while also pointing to some of the solutions.
We live in an era when for most people formal education does not stop at Year 12. The returns from tertiary education are tangible; hence the push towards increasing the qualifications of the Australian population. The challenge is how to fund this training and how to ensure its delivery meets the needs of those who are paying: individuals, governments and employers.
The national research priorities for tertiary education and training 2011—13 were endorsed in June 2010, consistent with the advice of the NCVER Board, following an extensive consultation period with stakeholders. In April 2013 the National Senior Officials Committee (NSOC) endorsed carrying forward the national research priorities to the end of 2014.
From 2011 to 2014 a set of five national priorities directed research into selected aspects of Australia’s tertiary education and training sector. The body of work published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) over this period has explored many of the challenges facing the sector and pointed to some of the solutions.
This summary brings together a range of significant findings and identifies further lines of inquiry. A small but key selection is as follows:
1. Employers and enterprises have a crucial role to play in matching skills to jobs, improving the image of vocational education and training (VET), and in workplace learning. The VET sector’s role, in partnership with employers, is to re-imagine the nature of vocations and occupational groupings. That partnership should extend to improving the workplace as a site of learning.
2.Skill definitions of competency-based training are valued but no longer sufficient in the contemporary VET system, suggesting that:
- more emphasis should be placed on developing contextual and foundational knowledge as well as building the capacity to learn, analyse and apply critical thinking and analytical skills
- boosting the literacy and numeracy, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills of the entire population is an important priority.
4. Investment in training can reduce disadvantage, with the biggest returns coming from completing Year 12 and/or certificate level III. However, disadvantage for individuals is complex and the familiar point about the requirement for joined-up solutions needs to be heeded, as does having reasonable expectations about the role of vocational education and its outcomes.
5. There is an expectation for VET to meet a number of purposes: to prepare new workers; upskill the existing workforce; and offer alternative pathways for young people and second chances to disadvantaged adult learners. To enable VET to tackle this daunting list requires the deft coordination of policy settings, co-investment in services and a talented VET workforce.
6. We still need to develop reliable and meaningful ways to measure the returns from investment in education and training for both employers and society, a complex task in a global economy.
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