Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Patching Bits Won't Fix Vocational Education in Australia - a New Model Is Needed

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Patching Bits Won't Fix Vocational Education in Australia - a New Model Is Needed

Article excerpt

Introduction

The purpose of this special edition of the International Journal of Training Research is to reflect on the model of competency-based training (CBT) that underpins vocational education and training qualifications in Australia and to 'outline considerations, principles, warnings or models that could stimulate debates about curriculum alternatives for VET'. The editor of this special edition, Steven Hodge, explains in his editorial that the introduction of CBT in Australia was accompanied by controversy and debate, but that 'It is clear that the bureaucratic and political attractions of CBT won out against the objections of researchers in Australia and many other countries'. He cites the philosopher Charles Taylor to ask whether CBT is now 'part of the furniture' in Australia, to the point where it is now taken for granted and beyond question. Hodge asks: 'Does the existence of a large, functioning competency-based VET system and regular survey results that employers are satisfied with it suggest that researcher objections were not well-founded?' He offers two possible answers: the first is 'If the question is decided by the fact that the system is functioning, that the "wheels aren't falling off'; then perhaps the concerns of researchers were not well-founded' He explains though that there is another way of thinking about this, which is that CBT may not be working as well as it might, and that given the rhetoric that accompanied the shift to CBT in Australia, one would expect it to be working a lot better. In this article, I argue that the wheels are falling off VET, and that we need to continue to subject CBT to a thorough critique as the basis for thinking about alternatives. CBT has undergone many changes in Australia, partly in response to critiques, but the fundamental model has not changed. Arguably, unless we can identify the problems with current models of CBT, it is very difficult to envisage alternatives.

The Australian VET system is in crisis, and CBT is at the heart of the crisis as it is the foundation of VET in Australia. CBT underpins a low-trust, highly regulated system, a market that is rocked by corruption and scandals (Manning, 2016), and a fragmented system of qualifications. The troubles endemic to VET in Australia will continue until the problems plaguing VET qualifications are addressed as a key component of reforms to VET. CBT is linked to the crisis in the VET 'market' which has allowed private for-profit providers to grow exponentially and make extraordinary profits from the public purse (Yu, Oliver, & Walpole, 2014) accompanied by unprecedented levels of scandal. This has led to the decline of technical and further education (TAFE) institutes as the public provider of VET, and resulted in declining confidence in VET qualifications. For example, the Senate Standing Committees on Education and Employment (2015, p. 61) report on private VET providers in Australia quotes many submissions that point to a loss of confidence in VET qualifications, including the development of unofficial 'black lists' of training providers 'whose graduates will not be accepted due to the poor quality of the training provided.

The policy response has been to seek to further regulate the VET market to stamp out bad practices, usually after they have occurred. In addition to the above senate review, various others have been held including reviews of: TAFE by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment (2014); training packages and accredited courses (Department of Industry [DoI], 2014b); industry engagement in training packages (Department of Industry, 2014a); the quality of assessment in VET (Department of Education & Training [DET], 2016a); the national training partnership agreement (ACIL Allen Consulting, 2015); and, how the student loans scheme in VET could be redesigned (Department of Education & Training, 2016b). There have also been reviews in various states (for example, see McKenzie & Coulson, 2015). …

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