The Scan has reported analysis by Professor Leesa Wheelahan that “recent VET statistics shows that TAFE’s share of publicly funded in Australian students is now 55.6%. In Victoria TAFE’s share of publicly funded students has fallen to 37.4%, while in South Australia it has fallen to 52.3%.” Read the original Wheelahan post.
It’s my view that one of the important consequences of this decline will be the flow through effect on credit transfer arrangements between local TAFEs and Universities. I have argued previously that research indicates that the predominant model of Recognition of Prior Learning in Australia is via credit transfer. Although the Australian Qualification Framework provides a framework for credit transfer through identified levels of qualifications, in practice individual Universities have tended to develop pathways between local TAFEs and local University courses - or at least with providers of specific benefit to the institutions involved. This has been one way of marketing a course locally or internationally, as well as ensuring students who access these pathways are supported through transition programs. Many a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed to sustain these agreements. Dual-sector arrangements also exist within which credit transfer arrangements are fostered. At the good practice end of credit transfer arrangements, substantial educational partnerships have been fostered. For example, where TAFE-Uni pathways have been used as a social equity and inclusion strategy, see Hosken et al 2013, Hosken et al 2013, and Ambrose et al 2013; or where such relationships reflect a historic rural or regional partnership.
Credit transfer arrangements are generally advertised on University websites, and some universities provide online searchable “credit banks” for students. For example, Charles Sturt University has developed comprehensive credit packages “for TAFE students”, Griffith University provides a searchable Credit Precedent Database “for previous TAFE studies”, and the University of Newcastle provides a search tool, with arrangements with providers shown below.
|University of Newcastle Credit Transfer Search Tool, July 2014|
It’s common for Universities to provide information to TAFE students, such as the RMIT TAFE-RPL kit the USQ TAFE student’s page. In addition, many TAFEs have negotiated credit pathways for their students to individual Universities, such as TAFESA’s University Credit Pathways and Sydney TAFE’s Pathways to University. There are some Universities, like UNSW’s Credit Transfer search tool that only advertise packages that are university-to-university pathways, although UNSW Social Sciences Faculty does have TAFE-Uni packages and makes special mention of “TAFE Community Services Training Package”. In fact this refers to a training package approved by the National Register that can be offered by any training provider who has gone through the necessary processes to have it on their scope.
The growth of private providers means that specific arrangements such as these, as well as specific mention of “TAFE” will come under increasing pressure. The vocational sector has been reregulated through contestability for many years - indeed I wrote my PhD concerning the casualisation of the adult education labour market partly due to this re-regulation (2001). As Wheelahan points out, the infrastructure that once was TAFE is being destroyed. TAFE is now positioned as one competitor in the vocational marketplace, with increasingly lower market share. Some universities have made the shift to language that reflects the re-regulated vocational education sector. UTS for example, advertises a “VET entry pathway” that recognises a pathway “coming from a TAFE or private college”. CSU does provide credit arrangements for non-TAFE providers, with a search tool that allows students to access information concerning these pathways – although “TAFE” features largely.
Privileging “TAFE” is increasingly at odds with the rise of the private provider. As I noted above, training packages on the National Register can be taught by approved providers, and “TAFE” as an institution is increasingly only one of these providers. The AQF, taken together with the contestability of the vocational market and its privatisation, means the future of credit transfer lies within mandated national qualification levels, rather than intimate or privileged TAFE-University pathways, even if Universities have yet to make this shift.
|AQF Qualification levels, July 2014|
The hesitancy Universities have shown in embracing RPL, including credit transfer may well return, as questions concerning the proliferation of private providers for profit in the vocational space surface. It won’t be possible to broker hundreds of credit transfer agreements, nor will it be possible to maintain a precedents data-based based on specific institutional arrangements. The focus will need to shift to guaranteed AQF pathways regardless of provider. This will be an interesting sector wide challenge. The commitments made to TAFE-Uni transitions, research concerning these transitions, and inter-institutional resources to support them, has slowly grown through careful work between TAFE and Universities. How will these commitments fare as TAFE declines and "teaching only" providers increasingly take market share. How will Universities shift to accept prior qualifications achieved via the National Register, regardless of provider, and outside the mandates of Memorandum of Understanding and locally grown and controlled arrangements? This question is one of many regarding credentialing in the digital age - in an open learning era; as a consequence of what Connell (2013) called "the neoliberal cascade"; the open education market, and the decimation of TAFE.