On 9 November Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute and the Australian Industry Group’s Centre for Education & Training hosted the launch of a new book: Rethinking Tertiary Education: Building on the Work of Peter Noonan. The Hon. Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Skills and Training, officially launched the book.

Building on the late Professor Peter Noonan’s life work, Rethinking Tertiary Education brings together leading experts to provide a vision for a coherent and connected tertiary education system (two sectors, one system) fit for Australia’s needs. The new work addresses the divide between vocational and higher education and provides a roadmap for a reform agenda that has been in development over the last decade.

It is released at a time when a rethink of Australian tertiary education is imperative. Our world is being reshaped by advances in technology, the transition to a clean economy, an ageing population and global instability. Skill shortages are widespread and productivity growth is sluggish.

The vocational education and training (VET) system needs significant reform, the higher education sector is under stress, and the divide between VET and higher education continues to perpetuate a fractured tertiary education system, effectively two systems, difficult for both students and industry to navigate.

Recent policy developments are promising with the Universities Accord Interim Report and the emerging National Skills Agreement both identifying greater complementarity of the two sectors as a priority.

A critical first step is raising the status of skills relative to knowledge. Progressing reform of the Australian Qualifications Framework, as proposed by Peter Noonan, is overdue. This is about ‘unlocking the levels’. The current framework has ten hierarchical levels based on knowledge and skills locked into a laddered progression. This rigid approach assumes that knowledge is privileged over skills and therefore higher education over vocational education.

We need to replace this system with one that gives equal weight to knowledge and skills and allows them to be combined more flexibly. That is what the AQF Review led by Peter Noonan urged.

Equally important is the need for stronger collaboration between industry and tertiary education providers, across both higher education and VET. Incentives for higher education and industry to develop cadetships and apprenticeships, including in partnership with VET providers, is another key priority. There is considerable evidence of the benefits of rich work experience in the acquisition of knowledge and skills over the course of a qualification.

Higher education, VET and industry also need to work together on a new national system of micro-credentials for the upskilling and re-skilling of the workforce to help create a lifelong learning system. Peter Noonan championed a national system of high-quality lifelong learning underpinned by a lifelong learning funding model that would require a Commonwealth-state compact and a tertiary education commission to oversee it.

These reforms would enable universal high quality tertiary education delivered by a diverse array of high-quality providers. They put the student at the centre: their needs better met through the diversity of offerings, stronger pathways and partnerships, and greater accessibility and transparency. This would enable them to navigate the system with greater ease and clearly demonstrate their skills and capabilities to employers. In turn, this would see the system deliver the knowledge, skills and capabilities Australia needs.

Find out more about the book

Pictured above at the book launch (L-R): Associate Professor Peter Hurley, Director Mitchell Institute; Professor Peter Dawkins, recent Interim Commissioner, Jobs and Skills Australia and Emeritus Professor at Victoria University; Megan Lilly, Executive Director, Ai Group Centre for Education & Training; The Hon. Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Skills and Training; Innes Willox, Chief Executive, Ai Group

Megan Lilly

Megan has an enduring commitment to research, policy and advocacy in education and training, especially in relation to work.  In leading the work of the Centre, Megan represents members on a diverse number of international, national, and state based committees, councils and boards. Megan is a strong advocate for reform and has been involved in key national reforms over many years. Megan is firm in the belief the capacity of education and training to transform lives.