Current Students

Practical education shown to fit with academic study

Susan Johns

A UTAS staff member and an Honorary Associate have been awarded “Best Paper” presented at the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia conference held in Hobart recently.

The award-winning paper was based on the report prepared with Melissa Humphries called The Path Less Travelled: VET Articulation In Tasmania.

The paper shows that students admitted to higher education on the basis of previous vocational education and training perform as well, if not better, than all other student populations.

Former Acting Director of the UTAS Centre for University Pathways and Partnerships (CUPP) Associate Professor Anne Langworthy (now CUPP Associate and living in Melbourne) and Research Officer Social Inclusion Dr Susan Johns were thrilled to receive the prestigious award.

The paper challenges some commonly held myths about VET students’ academic ability and about the perceived differential status of VET and higher education, and suggests that higher education can learn valuable lessons from VET regarding practice-based learning.

For the first time in Tasmania, seven years’ worth of data relating to around 2000 UTAS students admitted on the basis of previous VET at Diploma or Advanced Diploma level, was analysed along with a random sample of other students.

The study, sponsored by the Tasmanian Articulation and Credit Transfer Committee, also considered completion data collected from the State’s two public VET providers, Tasmanian Polytechnic and Tasmanian Skills Institute and current student perceptions.

The Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia is a scholarly society for people committed to the advancement of higher and tertiary education. It promotes the development of higher education policy, practice and the study of teaching and learning.

Top 10 facts and figures from the paper: Why is it important for higher education to connect with the vet sector?

  1. Practice-based learning characteristic of VET programs may benefit students in the transition to more theoretical higher education studies.
  2. VET pathways have been found to facilitate access to higher education for particular areas such as nursing and education.
  3. Effective pathways are characterised by close connections between the VET and higher education sectors, where staff from each sector work collaboratively to create a closer fit between courses.
  4. Tasmanians experience a “double disadvantage” in terms of higher education access and participation due to the State’s regional and remote status and relatively high proportion of low social economic status residents.
  5. Since 2004 there has been a gradual increase in the number of students admitted to UTAS on the basis of previous VET (around 11 per cent of total undergraduate student enrolments).
  6. Previous VET students entering university were more likely to be female and more likely to enrol in education, management and commerce, society and culture and health subjects. The lowest recruitment numbers were in architecture and building and engineering.
  7. Students admitted to UTAS on the basis of previous VET experience performed as well, if not better, than the student population on average. Most of the students interviewed were satisfied with their university experience, had high expectations of themselves and the capacity and desire to do well.
  8. Students surveyed largely agreed that there was a need for earlier provision of a bridging program to assist in the transition from VET to higher education.
  9. A key finding was that direct pathways from VET to higher education are not well utilised in Tasmania, resulting in lost opportunities.
  10. Further research will be needed to identify longer term outcomes in terms of employment and further education and training.

Image: UTAS’ Dr Susan Johns.

Published on: 16 Aug 2012 8:09am