Crediting vocational education and training for learner mobility

By Sandra Walls, John Pardy Research report 5 May 2010 ISBN 978 1 921413 89 6 print; 978 1 921413 88 9 web

Description

Reforms in the tertiary education sector place student transitions between vocational education and training (VET) and university at the fore. Informed by existing structures between Deakin University and three Victorian TAFE institutes, this project explores the notion of credit transfer in practice, as well as describing learning pathways available through enterprise-based training. Ideas for enabling learner mobility are identified, with both students and providers suggesting understanding and respect as key principles for success. A  guide to credit transfer for students, career counsellors and those assisting students in the credit transfer process has also been developed.

Summary

About the research

Despite the rhetoric that encourages ‘seamless pathways’ from vocational education and training (VET) to higher education, many barriers exist for VET students who wish to undertake further study at university.

Movement from VET to higher education takes place on a spectrum ranging from well organised to haphazard. Students are not always granted full credit for their previous learning, and there is a lack of clarity between institutions about what counts as credit transfer or exemption.

This project investigates the concept of learning pathways, using as an example the localised credit arrangements that exist in degree structures at Deakin University and the partnerships between Deakin and three TAFE institutes—Box Hill, South West and the Gordon Institute.

By way of comparison, the authors also explore pathway arrangements available to individuals who have undertaken training through enterprise-based registered training organisations.

Key findings

  • Different VET qualifications result in different pathways with varying credit transfer arrangements and outcomes.
  • Students who are perceptive and well informed show that they are adept at forging pathways for themselves, in spite of systemic and cultural impediments.
  • TAFE and university personnel identify improved pathway negotiations, a database of credits, and mutual respect as important for efficient credit transfer processes.
  • The majority of employment and context-related training delivered by enterprise registered training organisations goes unrecognised in broader credit transfer and articulation policy discussions.

A short publication, A student guide to credit transfer, has also been developed to assist students with VET qualifications who seek articulation into higher education programs.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

In an era of lifelong learning, pathways to tertiary education have become increasingly diverse. Individuals commencing university learning come from education contexts that reflect a multitude of individual career and learning aspirations. Learning pathways, as students move to higher education, are facilitated when they are granted some credit for previous tertiary study. The credit transfer experiences of vocational education and training (VET) and higher education students and those of the academics and administrators involved in facilitating credit transfer shape the ways in which institutions support or impede learning pathways for students.

This research report investigates learner mobility and credit transfer from VET to higher education.
The data analysis, findings and ensuing discussion respond to three research questions:

  • What are the core elements required for negotiating pathway arrangements between VET and higher education?
  • How does VET learning interface with higher education? What are the implications for
    curriculum content, teaching practices, learning processes and assessment arrangements?
  • What strategies have the potential to enable learner mobility in the wider VET sector,
    considering local pathway arrangements between VET and higher education providers and between enterprise-based learning arrangements and higher education providers?

Information was collected from two discrete VET learning environments—technical and further education (TAFE) institutes and enterprise registered training organisations (ERTOs). The methodology employed a descriptive analysis and interpretation of both credit transfer policy documents and developments and ethnographic material gathered from focus groups; a survey with follow-up interviews that addressed institutional organisation was also undertaken.

The project investigates existing collaborative partnerships and learning contexts, namely:

  • a 2008 alliance between a Victorian university (Deakin) and three Victorian TAFE institutes (Box Hill, South West and the Gordon Institute); members of this alliance have recently completed the Credit Matrix trial project for the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA)
  • local degree credit structures and nested VET qualification structures
  • students and staff from a university–TAFE alliance
  • pathway arrangements that are available through enterprise training organisations represented by Enterprise Registered Training Organisation Association (ERTOA) members.

The research was conducted against the background of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) guidelines and recent reforms, the Victorian Qualifications and Registration Authority’s Credit Matrix and Deakin University’s institutional credit transfer policy.

Institutional arrangements determine credit transfer and articulation between providers. According to Harris, Rainey and Sumner (2006), the complexities of these arrangements are better described as ‘crazy paving’ than as a seamless pathway, and the causes of this are as much cultural as they are systems weaknesses. The data suggest that many credit transfer determinations are based on individual subjective judgments of the learning achieved and, in particular, relate to the differing positions of those involved in granting credit. The hierarchy of the Australian tertiary education system, reinforced in policy structures such as the AQF, is another cultural consideration. Equivalence of content and pedagogy can only be established if perceived hierarchies and vested interests are set aside.

We find further complexity in the blurring, in some instances, of the sectoral boundaries between VET and higher education. This places the educational sector as secondary to the qualification itself, with learner mobility achieved purely through the attainment of a higher-level qualification, irrespective of whether it is from a VET or higher education institution. In addition, qualifications are not pure-bred, with many differing formats of training package qualifications existing at the diploma level. Another complexity results from the tertiary education sector’s now being more strongly organised according to market principles, meaning that providers in both parts of the sector are potentially competing for the same students. All of these factors contribute to the problems arising with credit transfer and articulation and to understanding the VET–higher education interface.

The issue of reconciling the skills-based competencies of VET with the codified knowledge of higher education in order to more clearly navigate the boundaries—or the crazy paving—remains complicated. In practice it is learning equivalence that remains the point of impasse for achieving equitable credit transfer arrangements. A means for establishing equivalence is imperative to ensuring that credit is recognised and awarded without prejudice.

The consistency of available policies, guidelines and regulations on credit transfer has not yet been fully evaluated. Policies for achieving equitable credit transfer are provided in the guidelines from both the AQF and Universities Australia. While there are also local university and registered training organisation regulations and policies on credit transfer, articulation and credit transfer in VET are not covered in curriculum design and training package development. These complications have impacts on learner mobility and underpin uneven and inconsistent approaches to credit transfer. Accordingly, it is important to ensure that educational qualifications—their curriculum content, teaching practices, learning processes and assessment arrangements—are assigned their due worth.

This research into credit transfer identifies ideas for enabling learner mobility for VET students, whether from TAFE or an enterprise or private provider. One of the key enabling features is that of the ability and motivation of providers and individual students to shape the pathways for positive credit transfer outcomes.

More efficient credit transfer arrangements for future VET students in Australia will require the resolution of differences in educational purpose, governance, knowledge and skill. Credit transfer represents the fairness of articulation experiences to support learner mobility. When education attained is not recognised equitably or without prejudice, a student’s potential learning career is compromised, as is the purpose of credit transfer. The differences surrounding knowledge
acquisition and skills development represent a further area for resolution, as does the issue of theory versus practice, which has troubled some VET–higher education discussions. A more
holistic approach, which enables students to build learning careers, is necessary.

Policies and processes covering credit transfer, including institutional agreements and tools such as the Victorian Credit Matrix, are premised on learners having access to all relevant information. Seamless movement from VET to higher education learning contexts will only be achieved through the adaptability of educators, administrators and institutions and by VET providers describing and explaining the detail of the learning content to higher education staff. A strengthening of the AQF may also redress issues of parity in credit transfer and articulation. In future AQF policy the volume of learning required for specific qualifications will be defined and a credit point formula established (Australian Qualifications Framework Council 2009b). An initiative such as this would allocate students a certain value of credit for their learning and facilitate student mobility.

In general, policy and organisational processes lag behind the patterns of learning careers. Student mobility between qualifications and across sectors is not linear. Student mobility will always be characterised by lateral shifts from one qualification type to another concurrent study, or by shifts to other qualifications at different levels.

In conclusion, a multitude of factors affect the development of credit transfer and articulation, ranging from differences across the sectors in systemic goals and governance and to goals for knowledge and skills, to individual qualities of commitment, motivation, understanding and respect.

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