Shaken not stirred? The development of one tertiary education sector in Australia

By Leesa Wheelahan, Sophie Arkoudis, Gavin Moodie, Nick Fredman, Emmaline Bexley Research report 17 January 2012 ISBN 978 1 921955 81 5 print; 978 1 921955 80 8 web  ·  ISSN 1837-0659


Mixed-sector tertiary education institutions are still only small in number and remain relatively under-researched. This project examines universities that offer a small amount of VET and private providers that offer both VET and higher education, building on previous research examining TAFEs that offer higher education. This research suggests that mixed-sector and dual-sector providers are likely to become more important but they face specific challenges in the quality of their provision. While the sharp distinctions between VET and higher education are giving way to a more differentiated single tertiary education sector this is resulting in a more stratified and hierarchical structure as university providers become the 'comparator'.


About the research

The number of ‘mixed sector’ institutions is likely to increase as the boundaries between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education become progressively blurred. Even though the sectoral divide is being eroded, it still shapes institutional relations and emerging hierarchies.

In 2009 the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) published research examining the nature of higher education offered by public VET providers ( Higher education in TAFE by Leesa Wheelahan, Gavin Moodie, Stephen Billett and Ann Kelly). This project extends that research by examining universities that offer a small amount of VET, and private providers that offer both VET and higher education.

Key messages

  • The structure of provision differs by type of institution:

    • Unlike dual-sector universities, universities that offer a small amount of VET do so in a narrow range of fields for specific purposes.
    • Many mixed-sector TAFE (technical and further education) institutes are seeking to become new types of tertiary education institutions, such as polytechnics, which offer a comprehensive and complementary range of programs in both sectors.
    • Mixed-sector private providers generally focus on one or two fields of education. They are emerging as specialist providers geared to a particular industry.
  • Mixed-sector TAFE institutes and private providers have similar challenges in developing scholarly cultures and strong academic governance, while mixed-sector universities have challenges in meeting VET’s requirement for industry currency.

All mixed-sector providers argue that the requirements of complying with two different regulatory, quality assurance, funding, reporting, registration and accreditation regimes are onerous. Streamlined regulatory arrangements and a single statistical collection would be very helpful in supporting an integrated education sector.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER


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