Vocational education, Indigenous students and the choice of pathways

By Susan Bandias, Don Fuller, Steven Larkin Research report 3 April 2013 ISBN 978 1 922056 46 7

Description

This report looks at the pathways Indigenous students in the Northern Territory take between VET and higher education. The study explores the perspectives of students studying at higher-level VET and higher education qualifications, and aims to gain an understanding of the pathways adopted by Indigenous students, as well as their motivations to study, and their experiences while studying. The report finds that 17% of Indigenous admissions to higher education at Charles Darwin University are based on previous VET qualifications. However, this pathway is available to relatively few students because of the low number of Indigenous graduates at the certificate IV, diploma and advanced diploma level. Overall, the students were happy with the quality of their courses, and those students who made the transition from VET to higher education felt their VET study was relevant to their higher education study. However, some students were unprepared for the more academic environment of higher education and the emphasis on online learning.

Summary

About the research

This report looks at the pathways that Indigenous students in the Northern Territory take between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education. The study explores the perspectives of students studying at higher-level VET (certificate IV and above) and higher education qualifications. The study aims to gain an understanding of the pathways adopted by Indigenous students, as well as their motivations for study and their experiences while studying. The project adopts a mixed methods approach and draws on enrolment data from Charles Darwin University to get a perspective on Indigenous students' enrolment and completion rates. The study also used focus groups with 29 Indigenous tertiary education students from Charles Darwin University, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and two private providers.

Key messages

  • For students from Charles Darwin University who had completed a higher-level VET course, the pathway from VET to university is a viable option, with around 17% of Indigenous admissions to higher education based on previous VET. However, due to the low number of graduates at the certificate IV, diploma and advanced diploma levels, this pathway is available to relatively few students.
  • The students who made the transition from VET to higher education felt their VET study was relevant to their higher education study. However, some students were unprepared for the more academic environment of higher education and the emphasis on online learning.
  • The majority of students were satisfied with the quality of their course, particularly the quality of teachers and tutors, and the cultural appropriateness of the course. However, some students felt there was a lack of Indigenous teachers.
  • All students received some level of financial assistance. Other types of support available to the students include: assistance with books, computers, transport, food and accommodation; childcare facilities; time off work; cultural leave; and additional time to complete the course. Some students were dissatisfied with the extent of the financial assistance and available childcare facilities, as well as with the lack of culturally appropriate places to study on campus.
  • Some students from remote communities who had moved to urban locations to study felt socially isolated and had difficulties communicating in English.

Despite the support that Indigenous students receive to assist them with their study, they continue to face considerable disadvantage. This suggests that lack of social support, language issues and limited access to tertiary education still act as barriers to participation and completion.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

The objectives of recent Indigenous education policy in Australia have aimed to redress Indigenous economic and social disadvantage by increasing student retention, progression and completion rates in both compulsory and post-compulsory education. The two sectors of the tertiary education system, vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE), have usually been acknowledged as separate but crucial elements in Indigenous capacity-building. The vocational education sector, in particular, has had an important role in equipping Indigenous people with the vocationally oriented skills required for participation in paid employment, the mainstream economy and the labour market (Dockery & Milson 2007).

A significant number of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory participate in VET. Their means of engaging with vocational education includes, but is not restricted to, residential programs, full-time study, part-time study and the mainstream on-campus experience. Although the percentage of Indigenous enrolments in vocational education and undergraduate programs at Charles Darwin University is relatively high by comparison with the national Indigenous enrolment average, little is known of the experiences of Indigenous students in the tertiary education sector of the Northern Territory or the pathways adopted by these students in their transition from post-compulsory education to work. This research project set out to examine the experiences and educational outcomes of Indigenous students in the tertiary education sector of the Northern Territory.

The project adopted a mixed methods approach to the data collection. The quantitative data included Charles Darwin University enrolment statistics for the period 2000-09 inclusive. The qualitative data was collected via interviews and focus groups conducted with Indigenous students enrolled at Charles Darwin University, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and two private vocational education and training providers.

At Charles Darwin University the pattern of Indigenous enrolment, completion and attrition is broadly consistent with national trends. In the vocational education sector at the university, Indigenous enrolments are characterised by the proportionally low number of enrolments by comparison with non-Indigenous enrolments, a high concentration of male students, the relatively young age of the student cohort and a high concentration of students in certificate I and II courses. By comparison with the non-Indigenous cohort, student retention and completion rates were also extremely low and attrition was high.

For the students who had completed a certificate IV, the pathway from vocational education to higher education was a viable option. However, due to the low pool of graduands at the certificate IV, diploma and advanced diploma levels, this pathway was underutilised. The students who had progressed from vocational education to higher education generally felt that their previous study was relevant. However, some students felt unprepared for the more academic environment of higher education.

Vocational courses were relatively easy for students living in urban and regional areas to access. However, the lack of training facilities, resources and tutors in the more remote areas of the territory required students from these locations to temporarily relocate. The physical, social and linguistic isolation associated with relocation was, for a number of students, acute.

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