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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 12 > Push for VET sector to engage in research

Push for VET sector to engage in research

MP900422113.jpgA recent flurry of publications out of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has made the recommendation that VET sector institutions engage in applied research. Without providing a means for developing adequate staff structures and acquiring appropriate resources, this recommendation sets unrealistic expectations for the sector. 

Issue snapshot:

  • Recommendations have come out of National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) suggesting that the VET sector engage in applied research.
  • This would put an undue burden on staff by requiring them to acquire a researching skill set, as well as a need to teach research skills to students.
  • Current staff structures at most RTOs would not realistically allow for the incorporation of research activities.
  • More consideration needs to be given to the nature of the VET sector before unrealistic recommendations are made.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) recently released a number of publications arguing that VET institutions, including Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and TAFE, should be aiming to engage in applied research; by applying for grants, establishing ‘research’ positions within their staffing, and changes to both staff training and curriculum.  

NCVER provides research and advice to the state and territory Education ministers, meaning the recommendation for RTOs to be engaging in applied research is essentially advice to these ministers.

If this recommendation is taken on by the government and VET institutions, VET sector staff will be expected to be trained for and engage in research activities, with a stronger focus being put on skills such as grant writing. 

NCVER also suggests the VET sector embed applied research skills into the curriculum.

The nature of the VET sector means that industry experts are able to share their knowledge of their area of expertise, and to expect trainers to have a research skill set, or have to acquire this skill set in order to maintain their positions, undermines the important work they already do. 

IEUA-QNT Research Officer Adele Schmidt said the suggestions made by NCVER are out of touch with the realities of the VET sector. 

“To impose the added burden of being active in research is unrealistic.  

“Most RTOs simply do not have the staff structures, or the infrastructure, that would enable them to engage in research.  

“Not to mention the fact that many RTOs employ staff on casual and/or short-term contracts, so there is nobody with sufficient tenure to meaningfully engage.   

“Most RTO staff have little to no job security and their capacity to provide quality learning experiences for VET students is compromised as a result.”

Ms Schmidt said ferocious competition for research grants already exists among universities alone. 

“Research funding in Australia is competitively contested – there is hardly adequate funding for universities, let alone for VET sector institutions as well.

“To suggest that VET sector staff have to enter into this competitive environment is not only unrealistic but unnecessary and inefficient.” 

Ms Schmidt said significant funding by the government would be the only way VET institutions would be able to engage in research activities. However, the government’s approach to funding the VET sector in the past has been problematic. 

“Having barely recovered from the VET Fee HELP loans debacle, it is of relevance to question why the government would consider funding RTOs on the basis of being engaged in research, as VET sector employers have notoriously abused government assistance in the past

“We do not want to see a situation where access to such funding is abused by unscrupulous employers or businesses. 

“The only VET provider with any hope of conducting meaningful research would be TAFEs, but given their decimation during the privatisation push of the past decade, even they will struggle to pull off research in addition to teaching. 

“It is imperative that the nature of the VET sector should be taken into consideration to ensure employers are not abusing the system, and that employees continue to teach in the area of their expertise, and not have to arbitrarily compete with university researchers,” Ms Schmidt said. 

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.