Claire Field on the way-more competitive short-course market

Up-skilling enrolments in formal education are down


In the period 2014-2018 Australian universities saw a decline in domestic postgraduate enrolments of 22 percent in management and commerce courses and 29 percent in education programmes.

An even more significant change is apparent in the VET sector. Between 2015 and 2019 domestic fee-for-service subject-only enrolments (typically used by learners for up-skilling and re-skilling) in IT declined by 75 percent. Management and commerce was down 38 per cent and education 26 per cent.

While enrolments in these ‘up-skilling’ courses in the formal tertiary education sector are falling, Microsoft has launched its own short courses also targeting people looking to up-skill. The courses are part of a package which identifies in-demand jobs, the skills needed to fill them, offers free access to learning and content, and combines this with low-cost certification plus free job-seeking tools to help people find new jobs. They are aiming for 25 million learners by the end of the year.

Not content with offering courses just to those looking to up-skill or re-skill, in July Google announced a suite of six month “career certificates” courses, which they intend will replace four-year undergraduate degrees for people seeking work as data analysts, project managers and UX designers.

And in June the US president issued an Executive Order introducing reforms to the recruitment of federal civil servants, whereby selection will now be on the basis of skills- and competency-based assessments rather than “degree-based hiring”.

In response to these shifts Australia is introducing micro-credentials into the Australian Qualifications Framework, funding higher education short courses (through the COVID-19 Higher Education Relief Package), introducing Skills Organisation pilots to facilitate a closer link between VET providers and industry, and providing funding for short courses in the new $1bn JobTrainer scheme.

The question is – will this be enough to arrest the decline in enrolments in up-skilling programs in our tertiary sector?

Claire is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. In the latest episode, she unpacks what to expect in both the JobTrainer program and the next National Skills Agreement.