Quality in the vocational education and training (VET) sector is an ongoing area of interest — but what does 'quality' really mean? This paper examines what quality in VET might mean from the perspectives of five key stakeholder groups: learners, employers/industry, providers, government and regulators. The research found that while there are some differences in what is important to each of the stakeholder groups, underpinning all the views is an expectation that learners gain the expected skills from their training. The paper also explores how useful any currently available measures of quality are and how they might be improved.
About the research
Quality in VET is a perennial topic of interest, attracting much attention from participants, providers, funders, regulators and public commentators. Quality is as much subjectively in the ‘eye of the beholder’ as it is objectively assessed through hard data, measures and surveys. This paper summarises the quality of the VET system in Australia from the lens point of the eye of the beholder. It considers the perspectives of five key stakeholder groups: learners, employers/industry, providers, government and regulators. The paper explores, from the perspective of each of these groups, what is important in regards to the VET system, what constitutes and promotes a good-quality VET system, and what are the enablers and barriers to having a system that meets their expectations. The paper then examines the usefulness of the measures of quality currently available, as well as approaches that might be more effective.
- Quality is context- and purpose-specific and means different things to the five stakeholder groups. For students it is obtaining skills to get a job, or a better job; for employers it is staff with workplace skills;
for providers it is optimal outcomes for all clients, along with provider reputation and viability; and for regulators it is all providers meeting and exceeding national standards. The common ground for all, including for governments and funders, is that learners are provided with the skills they are training for.
- These multiple perspectives on quality operate at differing levels — at the training program, at employment outcomes and at higher systemic levels. This makes explaining and measuring quality deceptively difficult: it does not simply involve interpretation of data and measures to produce widely available and understood market intelligence. Based on experience and perception, quality is also highly subjective and either drives or erodes reputation and overall trust, at all levels.
- Effective, fair and prompt regulation is foundational and essential in removing poor quality training from the system. The advice to emerge from the present review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 is expected to strengthen this essential cornerstone of VET quality.
- A number of enabling factors have the potential to either support or detract from VET quality. These factors may impact both objective measures and subjective views of quality. Such factors include:
- integrity and quality of course assessments
- professional qualifications and experience of trainers
- clear, trusted and relevant-to-purpose information with ease of access for all VET stakeholders
- quality and frequency of VET data collection, to allow pertinent systems and performance information to be published closer to real time, thus increasing its value
- the complexity of VET market structures, in both providers and training products, which, at a systems level, has the capacity to risk informational, operational and administrative overburden.
A companion piece to this paper, Factors that drive RTO performance: an overview, is available under 'Download' as a supporting document. It reviews the substantial work on performance indicators and drivers of registered training organisation performance and suggests areas where future research might be focused.
Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER