Higher education in TAFE

By Leesa Wheelahan, Gavin Moodie, Stephen Billett, Ann Kelly Research report 3 September 2009 ISBN 978 1 921413 28 5 print; 978 1 921413 29 2 web  ·  ISSN 1837-0659


Technical and further education (TAFE) institutes offering higher education degrees is a relatively new development but is expected to grow as a consequence of government policies aimed at increasing the percentage of Australians holding a bachelor degree. This report considers different perspectives of higher education qualifications offered by TAFE institutes, focusing on associate degrees and degrees. The report argues that separate governance, policy, funding, quality assurance, curriculum and industrial frameworks to support academic standards are impeding the growth of higher education in TAFE.


About the research

As at June 2009, ten technical and further education (TAFE) institutes in Australia are able to offer degree qualifications. The presence of such ‘mixed sector’ institutions is relatively recent in Australia, the consequence being that we do not yet know a great deal about this type of higher education or about how it may be reshaping boundaries in the tertiary education sector. This project sought to capture different perspectives about the nature of this provision.

This report is the culmination of desktop research and interviews with staff from state offices of higher education, senior managers at dual-sector universities, TAFE institutes that offer higher education and some that do not, and teachers and students across six states. It also considers several implications arising from the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2008).

Key messages

  • While numbers of higher education students in TAFE are small, these may well increase as governments strive to both meet their equity objectives and boost the proportion of the Australian population with a degree.
  • A distinctive, although not unique, feature of higher education courses in TAFE is their
    applied orientation.
  • Some of the TAFE institutes offering higher education see themselves developing as polytechnics, while others view their offering of higher education qualifications as an extension of their role as vocational education and training (VET) providers.
  • Mixed-sector TAFE institutes aim to help their students negotiate the boundaries between VET and higher education qualifications and adapt to learning in university, including through the provision of greater learning support.
  • Institutional and industrial relations structures are impeding growth of higher education
    in TAFE institutes.
  • Almost every person consulted in the project raised the issue of TAFE’s profile and its
    perceived lower status compared with universities.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER


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