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Degree at TAFE first choice for many students

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Australian vocational education providers are increasingly offering Bachelor Degrees. New research out later today (October 29 2019) shows students taking the degrees choose this pathway as their preferred higher education option, and do not see the degrees as a fall-back option from university.

The findings emerge from the interim report of ‘Vocational Institutions, undergraduate degrees’, a project funded by the Australian Research Council looking at degrees offered by vocational institutions.

The Chief Investigator leading the study is Professor Susan Webb of Monash University, working with two other Chief Investigators, Dr Shaun Rawolle at Deakin University and Dr Steven Hodge at Griffith University, with Partner Investigators at the University of Glasgow (Professor Trevor Gale) and the University of Birmingham (Professor Ann-Marie Bathmaker), and with Monash Research Fellow Dr Elizabeth Knight.

The study showed that students thought higher education in a TAFE Institute, as opposed to university, has distinct benefits. They deliberately chose their course on its perceived merits – not as a “fall-back” from university study.

The students’ reasons were diverse, including both intrinsic interest and pursuit of a career. Of the students surveyed, 64% said they were doing it because they enjoyed their area of study; 59% said that their study would enable them “to get a rewarding job”; 58% said the course was part of their “longer-term career plans”.

Interviews suggested that students’ preferred approach to learning played a major role. One fashion student, for instance, said that when she went to a local university it “was just too big” and made her feel “like you were another number”. Given her need for a higher touch environment and desire for practically-oriented higher education course material, she wanted to study somewhere “closer knit”.

An early years higher education student at a TAFE Institute, meanwhile, said that she preferred creating and building things to textbook work, and thought that for anyone like her, the vocationally orientated degree was “possibly one of the best choices you have.”

To date, the study has examined a selection of the degrees available across the eleven TAFE institutes offering higher education, drawing on publicly available data, data provided by the vocational institutions, interviews with a range of stakeholders, a student survey across two TAFE Institutes, and follow-up interviews on this survey. The survey received 463 responses, and 42 students and 13 graduates were interviewed. The degrees examined were in nursing, design, early years, fashion, and business.

One recent graduate from a Bachelor of Design at a vocational institute, who had thoroughly enjoyed his degree experience, emphasised the importance of initiative to finding these alternative pathways and arriving at desired careers in his field.

At one institute, the student said, he was introduced “to a lot of artists that have worked on incredibly reputable things, like Game of Thrones and things like that. We were then able to ask them what their pathway was, and it’s interesting to see all the people that are doing well are people that have used initiative somewhere.”

“I made a conscious decision that if I was going to go to TAFE, it’s for a reason,” he said. “The reason was to change my life and seek employment in a completely new industry. So, then I set it out – I already had an understanding of who in a dream world I’d love to work for.”

“As far away and ridiculous as that dream was, I thought, what would be the pathway I’d need to set myself on?”

In contrast, one of the graduates interviewed said they largely “fell into” their bachelor of business administration at a vocational institute, having done a diploma there. The Bachelor degree at the TAFE Institute was the next step in their pathway for progression, whereas they had previously drifted between degrees at several universities.

The researchers also note statistics from 2016 showing that students undertaking degrees at TAFE Institutes had similar satisfaction levels to students at universities: 82% were satisfied with their course, compared to 79.6% at public universities; 80% experienced good teaching practice, compared to only 61% of students at public universities.

Students taking degrees at TAFE also agreed at similar rates to university students that their studies improved their generic skills and developed their discipline-specific skills.

“These Bachelor degrees in vocational institutes are growing in significant niches that build on the heritage of established relationships with the industries that reflect the vocational education and training provision and experiences of these TAFE Institutes,” said Professor Webb.

“However, there is not widespread awareness amongst the general public that these vocational institutions are offering vocationally oriented Bachelor degree level as an alternative higher education option.”

“This research project indicates that Bachelor degrees are a valuable acquisition in their own right, not a characteristic of university or non-university providers. By broadening awareness of the range of higher education options, the project findings should lead to greater student choice.”

The interim report will available online from 12pm today (October 29 2019), and will be officially launched at 2pm today (October 29 2019) at the VET Development Centre in Melbourne. Research will continue following the interim report, with further results to be released in 2020.

Webb, S., Rawolle, S., Hodge, S., Gale, T., Bathmaker, A-M., Knight, E. and Parker, S. (2019) Degrees of Difference, Examining the Scope, Provision and Equity Effects of Degrees in Vocational Institutions, Interim Project Report, Monash University, Melbourne.

Interim report available online at www.monash.edu/hive from 12pm today (October 29 2019) AEST.

Source: MCERA

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