Degree or no degree for VET teachers? That is the question

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Debate continually rages over the quality and suitability of the Certificate IV TAE as the mandated qualification to teach in a vocational education setting. An ARC project, led by Professor Erica Smith from Federation University, has tried to answer a simple question: “Would more highly-qualified teachers and trainers help to address quality problems in the Australian vocational education and training system?”

The following partner organisations were also involved in this ARC-funded Linkage project:

  • VET Development Centre
  • TAFE Queensland
  • Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET)
  • National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)
  • Federation Training

The project has concluded, and an executive summary produced. Further details, including summaries of progress and a  list of project publications and conference papers to date can be found on the project’s website.

About the project

The project ran over three years, beginning in 2015 and concluding in late 2017. It has involved stakeholder interviews and focus groups with both teachers and students in both public and private providers. These focused on what these groups thought made a good teacher or trainer. Later phases involved a series of case studies in public and private providers and two national surveys of VET teachers and trainers. The surveys gathered information about their experience and qualifications; approaches to teaching; the nature of, and their engagement in, professional development, what they gained from it and their views about quality. The final phase of the study used a ‘Delphi’ process to gather information and insights from national and international experts in VET policy and practice.

What has it found?

This article draws very heavily on the executive summary to ensure the findings are faithfully reported.

“The key findings of the project … were as follows:

  1. Higher level qualifications in VET pedagogy improve teaching approaches, confidence and ability to address diversity in contexts, learners and AQF level of teaching.
  2. VET teachers often have high level qualifications in their industry area or other disciplines, and these too make a difference. However, higher level qualifications in VET pedagogy make a significant difference to VET teachers’ confidence and ability in teaching a diversity of learners.
  3. The key qualification level that makes a difference is a degree.
  4. Participation in both formal and informal professional development, in industry/discipline areas and in VET teaching, increases with higher qualifications, irrespective of the type of qualification.
  5. Teachers with higher level qualifications contribute more to their employing organisations in curriculum and assessment development, leadership and project work.”

The project also found that “engagement in professional development (PD) was more common among more highly-qualified teachers.” This means, they believe, that PD is unlikely to compensate for the low level of initial qualification.

The findings were very clear. Smith and her colleagues conclude that:

“While any type of higher level qualification was helpful, VET pedagogy qualifications had specific utility in pedagogical and assessment matters.  The Diploma of VET qualification made a difference here; but the significant difference was at degree level.”

The Delphi phase respondents concurred, with over three-quarters advocating that at least the Diploma of VET be mandated as a minimum pedagogical qualification for all full-time VET teachers in all types of RTO. One-third advocated a degree.

Degree or no degree for VET teachers? That is the question | VDC