Seamless pathways are the goal, but we often find it’s a rocky road
Justin Brown from the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has pulled together some useful thoughts on pathways between VET and Higher Education. ‘Credit-based pathways in tertiary education’ is an easy-to-read summary of what makes pathways work, and what gets in the way.
After working through the research on pathways, Brown distilled five factors that contribute to a seamless pathway:
- leadership and coordination between institutions
- clear and accessible information for prospective and current students
- clear, simple and timely administration processes
- appropriate practices for updating pathways as qualifications change, and
- fair, equitable, consistent and evidence-based arrangements.
Each of these comes with considerable challenges. To put them all in place would rely on a collaborative, systematic approach to managing and maintaining pathways. The first dot point mentions coordination between institutions. It’s in the right place at the top of the list.
Pathway discussions can get tangled in terminology. What kind of pathway is it? Brown narrows the field to three categories:
- Articulation: planned and directed student pathways set out by institutions that involves moving from one qualification level to a higher one.
- Credit transfer: a self-directed pathway within and across a range of different qualifications and institutions.
Take your time
The first step is to decide what kind of pathway to build. But a key success factor for constructing a seamless pathway is taking the time to build it. As Brown notes:
‘… a 2011 review of pathways from VET to higher education in Queensland identified a lack of planning or allowance by senior management for the staff, time and cost involved in developing articulation and credit transfer arrangements.’
Another report from 2011 offers an explanation of why it takes time to build pathways. The path less travelled: VET articulation in Tasmania (101 pages) scopes the work like this:
‘More effective pathways are characterised by relatively high rates of credit and completion. They are also reflective of close working relationships between VET and higher education staff work together who seek to create a closer fit between courses which, in turn, encourages students to articulate.’
As the ACER article points out, most pathway traffic is from VET to higher education, but not all of it. Brown says that since 2003, 5-7 per cent of VET students have a degree. That sounds low but there are 4.5 million VET students at any one time – 5 per cent equates to 225,000 students.
Getting on with the job
A final point. The 2011 Queensland report mentioned earlier (Content mapping for VET to HE credit transfer, 35 pages) quotes an industry stakeholder:
‘… the majority of jobs require a combination of both competency-based learning and knowledge-based learning. To favour one over the other is of no benefit to industry. It is time the two education sectors moved on past this debate, as it contributes to the skills shortage issue.’
Hard to argue with that. The debate is old and tired about the pitfalls of squaring up competency-based learning and knowledge-based learning. Every workplace, every job, combines the two every day. Let’s get on the same track rather than run an imaginary obstacle race.