Making sense of total VET activity: an initial market analysis

By Alison Anlezark, Paul Foley Statistical report 15 June 2016 ISBN 978 1 925173 49 9


The National VET Provider Collection has expanded to include data that covers all Australian vocational education and training providers. The broader scope provides a more comprehensive picture of nationally accredited training across the VET sector. This paper explains the rationale for establishing a more comprehensive picture of Australia's VET system; it examines the outcomes of the first collection of total VET activity, analysing the completeness of 2014 training activity and highlighting the new information this broader collection brings. The paper goes on to explore whether there are any significant differences between the reported training activity of private and government-funded training  providers. It looks at whether government-funded providers (TAFEs) are delivering a different mix of courses compared with private providers, student enrolments, and how completions compare. It concludes with some future directions for an improved evidence base for VET policy.


About the research

Following the successful first national publication of total vocational education and training (VET) activity and presentation of various informative data products, NCVER has continued to undertake further analysis of the submitted data. This paper is the first in a suite of NCVER authored papers that seek to better explain and explore the data in depth. 

This paper examines and compares the differences between past VET activity data (pre-2014) reported as Government-funded students and courses and the new expanded data reported as Total VET students and courses. It focuses on the information not previously collected, namely data submissions from training providers new to the National VET Provider Collection. In particular, it includes preliminary analysis and reasoned comparisons between the VET activity reported by TAFE providers and private training providers. The conclusions show the extent of similarity in training output across providers, but also highlight areas of notable diversity of the national training market between TAFE and private training providers.

Total VET students and courses only reports on 2014 VET activity and represents a ‘start up’ and transition year, with some providers being exempt in the first year and some data not available; as a result, the paper has important caveats that should not be overlooked. Future collections and reports will expand on this preliminary analysis.

Further related papers on topics such as the training provider market structure and use of different national training qualifications are forthcoming.


Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

The National Vocational Education and Training (VET) Provider Collection has been managed by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) on behalf of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments since 1994. Historically, this collection covered the training activity of key onshore Australian government-funded providers — primarily TAFE (technical and further education) institutes and private providers in receipt of government funds.1

In 2015, the collection was expanded to cover all Australian training providers, and was termed ‘total VET activity’ (TVA). This National VET Provider Collection, with a now broader scope, provides a more comprehensive picture of accredited training2 across the whole Australian VET sector; it covers the accredited vocational education and training delivered by Australian training providers including TAFE institutes, private training providers, community education providers, universities, schools and enterprise providers.

The first reporting of total VET activity doubles the number of VET students that were reported undertaking government-funded training activity in 2014. This information is invaluable for policy-makers, training providers, researchers and those interested in measuring how VET is contributing to Australia’s skills base.

This paper is structured in four main sections. First, it explains the rationale for establishing a more comprehensive picture of Australia’s VET system. It then examines the outcomes of the first collection of total VET activity data, analysing the completeness of 2014 training activity and highlighting the new information this broader collection brings. The paper goes on to explore whether there are any significant differences between the reported training activity of private training providers and TAFE institutes in terms of mix of courses, student enrolments and completions. The paper concludes with some future directions for an improved evidence base for VET policy.

The total VET market, as collected in 2014, comprised 4601 training providers delivering 818.2 million hours of training to 3.9 million students. When compared with the previous reported training activity, which was limited to key public providers (primarily TAFE) and private training providers in receipt of government funds, this adds 2.1 million students from an additional 2530 training providers to the National VET Provider Collection. Most of the additional accredited training activity was reported by private and enterprise training providers, and off-shore training reported by TAFEs.

The submission of 2014 training activity in 2015 was a new process for many registered training organisations (RTOs). Taking into account the exemptions granted to RTOs in this first year of collection, and training providers who did not deliver training in 2014, it is estimated that the 2014 total VET data captured information from 76% of all providers on the national training register, rising to 93% if excluding exempt providers and those who did not deliver any training in 2014. Future collections will indicate whether or not the significance of training activity from these non-reporting training providers is material to the National VET Provider Collection.

Across all training providers, 14.1% have more than 1000 students and are categorised as large training providers, 45.1% are medium-sized, and 40.8% are small providers, with fewer than 100 students. While the majority of students (80.4%) study with the larger training providers, of which TAFE is the main provider, the student profile appears similar across the previously scoped government-funded and now more broader scoped National VET Provider Collection (although the large amount of missing demographic data means that this is somewhat inconclusive).

There are few differences in student characteristics between those reported in Government-funded students and courses 2014 and Total VET students and courses 2014, although the former includes a slightly higher proportion of students who are female, under 25 years old and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. However, due to the proportion of ‘missing student demographic data’ in this first reporting of total VET activity, any comparisons on Indigeneity, disability status or location are inconclusive, despite the provision of VET being widespread across Australia.

A more reliable comparison can be made between types of training providers. With reported total VET activity we find: fewer students per training provider (an average of 849 compared with 864 in government-funded training); shorter courses (an average of 209 hours per student compared with 306 hours in government-funded training); and a narrower training scope (on average of 7.0 subject enrolments per student compared with 8.9 in government-funded training). What this first collection and its analysis highlights is the complexity of the national VET market: there is a heterogeneous mix of training providers funded from an array of sources delivering training to some 3.9 million students annually, with about 35% of Australian training delivered outside the metropolitan areas.

TAFE institutes deliver a very similar profile of training when compared with private training providers, but with some noted differences. While the student base appears in aggregate to be mostly the same, there are niche markets that are catered for by the diverse range of training providers. For example, TAFE is delivering more training in the engineering and related technologies (trades) area, while private training providers dominate the health training market. While management and commerce is proportionally the most popular area of study for both TAFE and private training provider students, there are more health (including health therapies, nutrition and occupational health and safety licensing training) and society and culture (including policing, transport, logistics, security, languages and music) subject enrolments delivered by private training providers than TAFE institutes.

The similarity in much of the profile is explained by the fact that government-funded training is not restricted to TAFE providers with 31% of enterprise enrolments, 35% of private training enrolments and 64% of community education provider enrolments reported to the government-funded VET collection. In addition, there were 190 300 students reported separately by schools in the 2014 total VET data, almost all of which were government-funded.

Future reporting of VET activity will provide a more complete picture of the national training market and thus, a stronger evidence-based policy framework, which will, for example, enable an evaluation of the outputs and performance of VET providers in the national market, and inform different state-based VET funding models operating across Australia. More accurate and complete training information will help governments to better understand the skills of Australians, make the best use of available funding, and help answer key questions on equity, efficiency and effectiveness. Students and employers will have more information to help them make informed choices about their training options, while training providers will have more information to help them better understand their markets and assist with business planning. A more comprehensive total VET data set will also make it possible to better understand the international VET market.

Information on VET activity will be strengthened with the introduction of the unique student identifier (USI) in 2015, which will enable students to access information from a single authoritative source. This will help students keep track of their qualifications and training as they upskill and reskill throughout their career. It will also establish the basis for better analysis by government to support the allocation of training funds, leading to improved accountability and transparency (Australian Government 2012a). It could also provide a mechanism for linking data collections; for example, the VET FEE-HELP3 market could be better understood through linkage with the total VET data to provide a richer set of evidence on students who access VET FEE-HELP, their educational backgrounds, their outcomes and the characteristics of their training providers.4

Government-funded training is broadly defined as all activity delivered by key government providers (predominantly TAFE institutes) and government-funded activity delivered by community education and private training providers, in accord with the scope definition in place for the 2014 National VET Provider Collection, and as reported in NCVER’s Government-funded students and courses publication (NCVER, 2015a). It does not include all forms of government-funded training; for example, the majority of activity delivered by schools. This scope is currently under review and is subject to future change.

2  Accredited training is a program of study that leads to vocational qualifications and credentials that are recognised across Australia. Accredited programs of study have been endorsed by either national or state/territory registering/accrediting organisations or a delegated authorised body. Accredited programs of study include endorsed training package qualifications, nationally and locally accredited courses and nationally and locally accredited skill sets and units of competency.

3  VET FEE-HELP is an Australian Government loan scheme to assist eligible fee paying students undertaking higher education courses, at approved providers, with paying their tuition fees.

4  Noting the issues raised  in ‘Redesigning VET FEE-HELP’ discussion paper (Australian Government 2016).


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