Vocational Education And Training: The Australian Model

Australia has developed in the last decades one of the most admired vocational education and training systems of the world, based on various factors: fluidity between titles and certifications, from high school to postgraduate studies and PhD's; a skill-based educational offer, and linked to the ability demand from the productive sector; funding mechanisms linked to the number of students enrolled in the different institutions; and a strong regulation and assessment conducted by the national and local governments.

These changes, which were brought about by a Labor party administration in the Eighties, have caused not only an increase in the total number of students, in quality and inclusion, but also have made Australia a popular educational destination, attracting more than 400 thousand foreign students and exporting educational services, from courses to consultancy, technologies, methodologies, to more than 70 countries worldwide, many of them in Latin America.

I had the opportunity to learn more about the system invited by Australian Ambassador in Argentina, Noel Campbell, who did a superb job with his team in Buenos Aires in setting up a high level agenda of interviews and meetings with some of the most remarkable leaders of the vocational education system.

The "Vocational Education and Training" system, VET as they call it, has generated a great range of new actors, which along with the government, have expanded the number of students and graduates. New providers, both public and private, evaluation agencies, teacher training centers, vendor associations, specialized media; a whole series of civil society institutions that are part of the system and contribute to greater debate and transparency.

Something that caught my attention was how advanced the debate over educational quality was, and how proud the system participants are about VET. Both the Labor Party, in the left, and the Coalition, in the right, public institutions, foundations, private providers, they all put the student and educational quality in the center of the system, no matter whom, when or where provides it.

As is expected in any educational system that works, teaching is a priority in Australia. All teachers working in vocational institutions are required to have at least five years of experience in the industry and to stay periodically updated on the sector they are teaching. It is not enough with training courses, but they also need to stay updated through work. There is also great flexibility and space for business experts to teach in educational institutions, with a previous training in pedagogical skills.

Australia has a clear and flexible qualification system, divided in 10 levels, from trainee to certifications, diplomas, bachelor and postgraduate degrees. Students may start an any level, and enter and leave the system whenever they want, taking time between one title and the other. This fluency seems to encourage students to continue their formation, and in a dynamic world, it allows individuals to quickly adapt to change in their careers and professions.

The link with the industry is permanent and systematic, both at the national level as well as statewide. The educational offer and rating grades are fixed between the government, the private sector and the unions and are continuously updated.

Another factor that caught my attention is the amount of information being gathered about the quality of the system, of students, surveys, impact assessments. During the first years of the reform, they explained, it was more oriented to evaluating institutions, but lately they have been generating much more information for the students. The government has created websites such as www.myfuture.com or www.joboutlook.gov.au that allow future students to count with more data about study plans, careers, and job or income perspective. These improvements have also helped institutions to keep their offers updated.

The reforms implemented during the last decades have put the VET system in the center of the public policy debate, something unthinkable a few years ago, as the Victoria Minister of Education Steve Herbert, from the Labor Party, admitted to me. During the current electoral campaign between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his contender Bill Shorten, the quality of VET institutions and the financing of the system have made the front pages of virtually every newspaper of the country.

Many ideas and lessons for our vocational education and training system in Argentina!