25 Oct 2017

Business Council education revolution would treat technical education like university

Every Australian would receive a “lifelong skills account” to spend as they wished on university or technical education under a new proposal from the Business Council of Australia that would for the first time treat university and vocational education funding the same way.

Launching the report at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the council’s chief executive Jennifer Westacott will ask why enrolled nurses who study at technical colleges get less from the public purse than registered nurses who go to university.

“Can someone explain to me why a university nursing student is guaranteed a federal subsidy of $40,000?” she will ask.

“And then can someone explain to me why the vocational education student can access an income-contingent loan of up to $15,000, while the university student can borrow more than six-times that?”

She will say that increasingly people will have to dip in and out of learning to update their skills rather than do full degrees.

And yet “credentialising” gives university degrees a higher status than the technical qualifications that will increasingly be needed in a world where people work together with machines.

“Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a vocational qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one. It isn’t,” her speech will say.

Sector-neutral “lifelong skills accounts” would replace existing funding schemes and be made up of a taxpayer subsidy and an income-contingent loan that could be used at any approved provider.

This article was published in smh.com.au on 11 October 2017.

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