Focus areas for 2020–22

  1. Online learning in the VET sector

In 2020-22, ASQA will commence a strategic review of online learning in the VET sector.

Australia’s VET and international education sectors have faced major disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the closure of Australia’s international borders and implementation of social distancing requirements to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Social distancing and business closures have interrupted work placements and delayed completion for many students. Some students have ceased training, while others have been unable or unwilling to attend classes. In this context, many providers shifted to online delivery in order to continue training while keeping staff and students safe.

The use of technology for education in the VET sector is not new–online training comprised around 13 per cent of VET delivered in 2017. In 2020, more than 1000 providers–including around 450 CRICOS providers–have advised ASQA they now deliver all or a number of their courses online as a direct result of COVID-19.

ASQA has provided a range of education and guidance to support providers in transitioning to distance learning, and particularly online learning.

Stakeholders and providers have been optimistic about the good practice emerging as providers transition to online learning and look for innovative ways to help students gain the competencies they need to be successful in the workforce. They have also expressed concern that not all providers had the skills and capability required to deliver high quality training online, and that some employers may regard training delivered online as substandard–particularly where assessments have been conducted online rather than in the workplace.

Traditionally, online delivery has presented a range of challenges including lower course completion rates and student satisfaction, a lack of student support and problems with work placements and assessment. Despite the challenges, student outcomes from online learning are generally comparable to other delivery modes, and graduates who studied online had similar or slightly better employment outcomes across a range of qualifications.

The importance of skills and training has already been demonstrated in the immediate response to COVID-19. The VET sector will continue to play a very important role in Australia’s economic recovery. With skills required in the workplace already changing at an increasing rate, the pandemic has the potential to further disrupt some sectors and stimulate the need for re-skilling and up-skilling. Online learning is likely to continue to play a large part.

The strategic review will engage with key stakeholder groups and providers to understand the benefits, opportunities and risks posed by the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the areas where providers may still face challenges, and where ASQA can provide further support.

  1. VET in schools

VET in schools was established to enable secondary students to undertake nationally accredited VET programs while completing secondary school. VET delivered to school students is recognised for its role in:

  • catering to the diverse interests of students
  • promoting school retention
  • providing opportunities for students to develop industry-specific technical skills as well as more generic skills that prepare them for the world of work.

VET studies can also be counted towards senior secondary certificates of education in all Australian states and territories.

While the education of school students is the domain of various state government and non-government schooling sectors, ASQA, as the national regulator of VET in Australia, has responsibility for providers who deliver VET to secondary school students.

Research points to a range of benefits for school students who undertake VET studies. However, stakeholders continue to raise concerns about the quality of delivery and outcomes, industry relevance and employer engagement.

The relatively recent closure of providers with large numbers of VET in schools enrolments has also highlighted key risks concerning VET delivered in schools which include:

  • provision of accurate information to support students in making an informed decision to enrol in a VET program
  • ensuring teachers/trainers and assessors delivering the program are appropriately qualified
  • alignment between training and assessment delivery and the requirements of the relevant training package
  • availability of sufficient learning and assessment resources to support students
  • timely certification of students on completion of training
  • adequacy of partnering arrangements.

Numerous research reports and reviews have addressed issues associated with the suitability of VET delivered in secondary schools. These reviews have included Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System (the Joyce review) published in April 2019, the more recent Looking to the Future: Report of the Review of Senior Secondary Pathways into Work Further Education and Training final report released in June 2020, and a number of other state and territory reviews.

In 2019, ASQA wrote to the relevant education authorities in state and territory governments to provide advice about particular risks concerning VET in schools. These risks were identified through ASQA’s recent regulatory activity, and this information has been provided to these education authorities to inform their oversight of arrangements within their jurisdiction.

We have also commenced consultations with other regulators and all state and territory governments, as part of a scoping study to clarify the regulatory risks associated with VET delivered in secondary schools and understand how they interact with the delivery models in each jurisdiction.

Actions

Over 2020–22, we will continue work with other regulators and all state and territory governments to:

  • further clarify the key risks associated with VET delivered in secondary schools and understand how they interact with the delivery models in each jurisdiction
  • research the delivery and quality assurance of VET for secondary school students in other countries
  • analyse the findings of existing research and reviews to inform further work to address any issues identified, including a potential Strategic Review into VET delivered in secondary schools.
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