In their words: student choice in training markets

September 2015
Estimated publish date
October 2017
Principal researcher(s)
Justin Brown, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
Jo Hargreaves, NCVER 08 8230 8678


This study aims to investigate:

  • The drivers influencing student behaviour, and their impact on choice of provider and course in competitive training markets;
  • The awareness and perceived value of entitlements to training, from the students’ perspective;
  • The extent to which these choices are restricted by local training supply and labour market needs; and
  • The extent to which the VET system and underpinning RTO practices are responding consistently in terms of: equipping young people with information needed to make an ‘informed choice’; access to entitlements; and strategies to improve access and broaden choice.


Mixed methods

Research questions

There are five research questions of interest to the research:

  • What are the main drivers influencing student behaviour and choice of provider and course?
  • To what extent are young people aware of the various entitlements and eligibility criteria concerning their participation in VET? What are their attitudes towards them, and what impact do they have?
  • What role does ‘choice’ have when explaining the patterns in training participation and outcomes among groups of young people?
  • What are the perspectives of the target group (and the practitioners who train them) on the opportunities and ‘freedom to choose’ their provider, course, and occupation in their particular region?
  • How can current approaches to measurement and reporting in VET be broadened to reflect more comprehensive outcomes for young people?


The project methodology has been designed to address the research questions and to ensure alignment with the overarching research aim of the research topic – “to enhance our understanding around the impacts of student choice and entitlement to training from the students’ perspective”. The focus will be on identifying three distinctive markets of Victoria in which young people participate in VET at a higher rate than in other parts of Victoria (and Australia) and where there are high rates of youth unemployment.

The initial stage of the research will involve mapping what VET options are available in these three regions for young people through a detailed document analysis, followed by a comprehensive analysis of archival quantitative data (ABS Statistical Area 2-4 level). The findings from these strands will then be explored in more detail by working closely with three RTOs, each catering to different segments of the ‘youth’ or ‘school leaver’ market. At each RTO, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with practitioners and managers, and a selection of focus groups will be conducted with VET learners.

There are three key data sources which will assist the analysis:

  1. Primary analysis of secondary/archival source documents (e.g. DET policy and statistical reporting materials; LLEN environmental scans; RTO annual reports and relevant material provided to the study; and local government materials);
  2. Primary analysis of secondary/archival data (e.g. ABS Census, Victorian On Track survey, NCVER Students and Courses/Student Outcomes Surveys, VOCSTATS, and LSAY data where applicable);
  3. Primary data collection (e.g. fieldwork conducted with a selection of 3 RTOs in Victoria)

The multi-level approach to data collection will capture new information and different perspectives on these issues while retaining a focus on the learner perceptive. 


The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) is an independent, national educational research organisation established in 1930. ACER provides comprehensive research and development services - undertaking both quantitative and qualitative data collection, analysis and review. ACER one of the main sources of data and commentary on Australian education and training, with its VET research program spanning the breadth of the sector in Australia and internationally.

Previous research conducted by ACER has led to:

  • targeted policy advice being delivered to government as input into policy reforms;
  • refinements to systems and processes at the provider and system level; and
  • dissemination of research information in user-friendly forms for VET decision makers, institutions and practitioners.