The tertiary sector in Australia is undergoing profound change, especially at the intersection of vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE). Government acceptance of the AQF Review recommendations in 2019, and the introduction of Undergraduate Certificates with Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) in 2020, have the potential to further alter the Australian tertiary landscape. TAFEs, which can offer HE qualifications, are amongst the non-university HE providers (NUHEPs) that can apply for an allocation of CSPs to offer Undergraduate Certificates. This development leverages TAFEs’ strong skills training credentials and is being examined by a project that is tracing TAFEs’ innovation in HE provision.

Discussing these issues, recent papers in the latest Special Issue of the International Journal of Training Research focus on research investigating HE qualifications offered by Australian TAFE Institutes. The papers’ authors all have connection with the Australian Research Council (ARC) funded Discovery Project (DP170101885) ‘Vocational Institutions, Undergraduate Degrees: Distinction or Inequality’, a three-year national case study investigating every TAFE across Australia approved to offer its own bachelor degrees.

The ARC Project considered claims about distinctive approaches to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in TAFE bachelor degree offerings and the implications of this development for student equity in HE. While degrees being offered by TAFE Institutions is not new, this research finds that the expansion over the last five years, and the remodelling of the Bachelor degree to fit the needs and capabilities of TAFE institutions, have catered to new types of HE students and are leveraging TAFEs’ close connections with industry partners.

Research into the institutional practices around HE in TAFE also reveals opportunities to redress inequalities within HE and society. Degrees delivered in TAFE can offer smaller classes, led by industry-engaged teachers with a unique academic identity that combines industry currency and familiarity with VET. In spanning both the VET and HE sectors, curriculum and assessments for TAFE bachelor degrees are able to break away from the competency-based model of vocational education that some providers consider to be a constraint on their responsiveness to industry. These learning and teaching approaches, together with the strong vocational focus, better support, engage and resonate with diverse student cohorts than many HE offerings do.

In challenging the established order, can these degrees change the rules of the game? The analysis presented in the Special Issue hints at a redefinition of what makes a degree distinctive. As Wheelahan and Moodie have been asking for over ten years, why isn’t there more of it?


Professor Susan Webb, Faculty of Education, Monash University

Dr Elizabeth Knight, Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES), Victoria University @lizziebknight

Dr Steven Hodge, Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Griffith University

Dr Shaun Rawolle, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University @ellowars


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