Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Straddling the Divide: Towards an Associate Degree in Information Technology

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Straddling the Divide: Towards an Associate Degree in Information Technology

Article excerpt

Introduction

In response to global economic competition and the need to increase workforce skill levels, there has been a push for the systematic development of paraprofessional qualification programs internationally (Robertson, 2002). Brown and Hesketh (2004) forecasted that 78% of jobs in the U.K. and the U.S. by 2010 would require additional training, ranging from on-the-job to associate/professional, to increase overall productivity. The importance of having a population with high-level skills has been widely recognized by most countries. As a result, sub-degrees or intermediate qualifications of one sort or another can be found in France, Germany, Australia, U.K., and the U.S. (Department for Education and Employment, 2000; HEFCE, 2000; Levey, 1998; Wilson, Blewitt, & Moody, 2005).

In Australia, the Government has identified impending shortfalls in the numbers of technicians and paraprofessionals. To secure long-term economic prosperity and to build capacity, Australia has moved to develop a set of policies to facilitate qualification upgrading for the existing workforce (Australian Government, 2008). Drafting these policies has been an impetus to cross-examine the traditional, government-sponsored post secondary education offerings and their shortcomings in addressing the need to up-skill the existing workforce. The publicly funded tertiary qualifications offered in the vocational education and training (VET) sector has a very different focus than that offered by the higher education (HE) sector. While VET provides skills and knowledge for work, HE provides programs that are more academically oriented. Conventionally, for those wishing to upgrade their skills, further vocational training had been accessed through a variety of routes, product vendors, private training centres and professional bodies.

In 2002, the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) established a new qualification titled the associate degree. Situated within the higher education structure, the associate degree is a two-year post-secondary qualification integrating generic and employment-related skills, with a single or multidisciplinary discipline focus. By situation within the AQF, a learner in the study of an associate degree program is entitled to a government funded place. The attachment of government funding support helps legitimatize this new qualification in the eyes of the public.

Australian Associate Degrees

Internationally, a great variety of two-year, intermediate, paraprofessional and sub-degree qualifications are available. In the U.K., over 2000 foundation degrees were delivered to over 38,000 students during 2007 (McCormack, 2007). According to Wilson et al. (2005) in their observations of the systems in the U.S., students have various associate degree options, including those offered by community colleges, junior colleges, and universities. These associate degrees attracted large cohorts of students and 11.3 million had graduated by 2000. A major benefit of these degree programs is that of social inclusion (Department for Education and Skills, 2003; Wilson et al., 2005). Historically, they have widened participation in higher education for students with non-traditional backgrounds such as immigrants, older workers particularly women, midlife career changers, and minority groups.

Despite the similarity in name to American associate degrees, the intent of Australian associate degrees is not, first and foremost, to be a funnel to higher education studies. Rather, it is somewhat closer to the philosophy of the English foundation degrees where studies are closely aligned to address workforce mid-level skill shortages. Australian associate degrees provide a broad-base point-of-entry to employment with learning outcomes for graduates being the acquisition of foundational underpinnings of one or more disciplines, the development of generic employment-related skills, the development of academic skills and attributes, and the capacity for self-directed and lifelong learning (Australian Qualifications Framework, 2007). …

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