Tertiary Education More Forward Than Backward: ABS

Tertiary education more forward than backward: ABS.

NEW tertiary education pathways data, released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows that while Australians are becoming more highly educated, they’re also becoming more frequently educated.

The new analysis has settled a decades-old question over which post-school sector is the main springboard for further study. But experts question the value of some of this articulation, with much-trodden pathways arguably achieving little more than VET sector ‘churn’.

The report found that the proportion of Australian adults with at least one post-school qualification had increased by over a seventh in less than a decade, from 54 per cent in 2001 to 62 per cent in 2009. And the proportion with two or more qualifications had increased even more quickly, rising by a quarter from 20 to 25 per cent.

The report, which crunched data from the 2009 Education and Training survey, analysed the educational history of adults aged between 25 and 64. It credited governments for achieving higher qualification levels by opening up tertiary education pathways.

“With an ageing workforce and an increasingly complex economy it has become necessary for governments to ensure that education pathways exist to allow individuals of all ages to acquire new skills and relevant qualifications,” it said.

“The result of this has been not only a rise in the overall qualification levels of the community but also a rise in the proportion of the population with multiple qualifications.”

The report suggested the pathways were working fairly well, with 11 per cent of the 4.7 million Australians who’d initially obtained VET qualifications having subsequently acquired degrees.

And a third of the 2.3 million people who’d started off with bachelor degrees had moved on to obtain postgraduate qualifications, the report found.

But frequently, the pathways didn’t follow the upward trajectory generally associated with educational progression. Almost one in ten of those who’d initially obtained bachelor degrees had returned for more qualifications at the same level.

And almost one in seven – some 320,000 adults – had effectively gone backwards by obtaining subsequent VET qualifications.

This figure may please vocational training enthusiasts who have argued for years that VET graduates who go on to higher education are vastly outnumbered by the ‘reverse articulants’ – higher education graduates who then study VET.

This claim has assumed urban myth status, with figures as high as five or six to one suggested – generally with little or no supporting evidence.

Until now the claim has been impossible to prove or disprove, because there has been insufficient data on people’s prior education attainment, and VET and higher education statistics are difficult to compare in any case.

But the ABS analysis has settled the argument, demonstrating that the urban myth is just that – a myth. About half a million VET graduates have gone on to obtain higher education qualifications, outnumbering their ‘reverse’ counterparts by about three to two.

Leesa Wheelahan, tertiary education expert with the University of Melbourne’s LH Martin Institute, said it was a silly argument anyway.

“The reason people get worked up about this issue is sectoral politics – the VET proselytisers want to demonstrate that higher education is useless at preparing people for work, and that VET has the moral high ground in this area,” Dr Wheelahan said.

“This is a pretty stupid debate, particularly given that the VET proselytisers in question usually have higher education qualifications themselves.”

The ABS report suggested that diplomas and advanced diplomas worked well as transitional qualifications. Of the 1.4 million people who’d obtained diplomas as their initial post-school qualifications, around 340,000 had gone on to get degrees, including 140,000 with postgraduate degrees.

Despite this, the report shows that most articulation occurs within sectors. About a million higher education graduates went on to achieve more higher education qualifications, and 1.1 million VET graduates completed subsequent studies in VET.

Dr Wheelahan said this was fine, so long as students were making progress. But it’s not clear that all are.

Of the 890,000 adults reporting base level certificates I and II as their initial tertiary credentials, only 350,000 obtained subsequent qualifications – 230,000 of them acquiring additional VET certificates.

“There is a lot of evidence to suggest that many of them do certificates at about the same level – they are caught in a trap where they churn through qualifications at the same level,” Dr Wheelahan said.

Source: John Ross l July 29, 2011