22/08/2019 - 14:43

Report questions uni focus

22/08/2019 - 14:43

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Australian school students are frequently overlooking vocational education in favour of going to university to the detriment of their future career prospects, according to a report from the Grattan Institute.

Report questions uni focus
Higher education attainment has grown while vocational education is stable.

Australian school students are frequently overlooking vocational education in favour of going to university to the detriment of their future career prospects, according to a report from the Grattan Institute.

The report, which highlighted concerns about career pathways for Australia’s school students, based its finding on trends in higher education enrolment in Australia since 1982.

It found higher education enrolment had increased for men and women, by 37 and 21 per cent, while vocational education enrolment remained relatively stable at 35 to 42 per cent and 27 to 35 per cent.

While that growth mirrored global trends, the report drew attention to students who achieved an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank between 50 and 70 (about 40,000 students annually). It found they earned more, on average, after studying vocational courses than if they had attended university.

That led the report’s lead author, Andrew Norton, to raise concerns that schools were encouraging students to attend university despite the possibility of better career prospects if they were to begin vocational studies.

“Especially for low-ATAR men, some vocational alternatives to university are worth considering,” Mr Norton said.

“Schools need to give [students] better career advice alerting them to these possibilities.”

However, Mr Norton’s suggestion that schools put too much pressure on students has been met with some scepticism in Western Australia’s education sector.

Wesley College headmaster Ross Barron told Business News that, while there had been a lowering of entry standards for students applying for university, he believed the long-term prospects for those students remained to be seen.

Generally, he thought most schools positioned students to go into the courses that would see them reach the best outcomes.

“We don’t mandate that they can’t do ATAR or a VET pathway,” Mr Barron said.

“In the end, we want [students] to have the best pathway, but also to go into a course that’s going to suit their abilities and interest, because if it doesn’t match it all goes pair shaped.”

North Lake Senior teacher Claire Meiklejohn echoed Mr Barron’s comments, saying schools helped determine career paths for students by providing them with flexible options.

“VET or a pathway to higher education are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and students now have other options, including general courses or taking a mix of ATAR and training courses, to reach their goals,” Ms Meiklejohn said.

Mr Norton made similar observations in his report, writing that some students whose employment prospects would improve in VET courses tended to show little aptitude or interest in vocational jobs.

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