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The outcomes of education and training: what the Australian research is telling us, 2011-14

By Francesca Beddie Research summary 22 May 2015 ISBN 978 1 925173 18 5


During 2011 to 2014, a set of five national research priorities directed research into Australia's tertiary education and training sector. Over this time NCVER's research has focused on delivering some clear messages about many of the challenges facing the sector. The outcomes of the research have also pointed to some of the solutions. These are summarised in this report under each of the five priority areas:

  •     skills and productivity 
  •     structures in the tertiary education and training system 
  •     the contribution of education and training to social inclusion 
  •     learning and teaching 
  •     the place and role of VET. 


About the research

From 2011 to 2014 a set of five national priorities directed research into selected aspects of Australia’s tertiary education and training sector. The body of work published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) over this period has explored many of the challenges facing the sector and pointed to some of the solutions.

This summary brings together a range of significant findings and identifies further lines of inquiry. A small but key selection is as follows:

  • Employers and enterprises have a crucial role to play in matching skills to jobs, improving the image of vocational education and training (VET), and in workplace learning. The VET sector’s role, in partnership with employers, is to re-imagine the nature of vocations and occupational groupings. That partnership should extend to improving the workplace as a site of learning.
  • Skill definitions of competency-based training are valued but no longer sufficient in the contemporary VET system, suggesting that:
    • more emphasis should be placed on developing contextual and foundational knowledge as well as building the capacity to learn, analyse and apply critical thinking and analytical skills
    • boosting the literacy and numeracy, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills of the entire population is an important priority.
  • Investment in training can reduce disadvantage, with the biggest returns coming from completing Year 12 and/or certificate level III. However, disadvantage for individuals is complex and the familiar point about the requirement for joined-up solutions needs to be heeded, as does having reasonable expectations about the role of vocational education and its outcomes.
  • There is an expectation for VET to meet a number of purposes: to prepare new workers; upskill the existing workforce; and offer alternative pathways for young people and second chances to disadvantaged adult learners. To enable VET to tackle this daunting list requires the deft coordination of policy settings, co-investment in services and a talented VET workforce.
  • We still need to develop reliable and meaningful ways to measure the returns from investment in education and training for both employers and society, a complex task in a global economy.

Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER


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