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The analyses presented in varieties of learning do not (apparently) exclude overseas students. Any HECS-style system for TAFE would presumably be available only to Australian students.

In 2001 overseas students were 17% of commencing degree (or below) students (DEST2002). Some universities, in collaboration with TAFEs, are advertising a cheaper path to an Australian degree for overseas students by an initial study in TAFE. The education of overseas students is a substantial industry in Australia and an important source of overseas earnings.

The promotion of a TAFE-university pathway for overseas students need not threaten national earnings from overseas students. If TAFE and universities accurately charge full fees with the same level of surplus, this combined approach may provide a competitive edge for some Australian universities in the global market for overseas students.

Nevertheless, given the level of marketing of the option of prior TAFE study to overseas students, and the irrelevance of HECS avoidance overseas students, it would be interesting to see the analyses in the issue paper presented for Australian students only.

Conclusions:
The issues paper varieties of learning, part of the current Higher Education at the Crossroads review, deals at length with the transition of students from TAFE to university and the possibility of HECS avoidance. In order to consider HECS avoidance through TAFE studies a phenomenon of importance, the issues paper seeks to demonstrate that the level of credit transfer from TAFE to university is significant and growing. The evidence as reviewed here does not support the view that the level is significant and growing.

Varieties of learning canvasses several possible options for the interface between the VET and higher education sectors. Prominent among these is the introduction of ‘joint courses’ where, for instance, the first full-time equivalent year (or possibly the first and second years)is taught at a TAFE as a diploma course which fully articulates into a degree program completed at a university.

Such a scheme might provide improved access for students in rural and regional Australia to higher education. The cost of higher education would be reduced if students could study at the local TAFE instead of living away from home to attend university. Credit transfer between TAFE and universities would be automatic, at no credit cost to the student. Such a system, however, increases substantially the possibility of HECS-avoidance and would, if it were widespread, strengthen the argument for a HECS-style scheme for fees at TAFE.

A move towards ‘joint courses’ presents considerable problems for TAFE and universities.TAFE institutes might find themselves in a subservient role to universities—diploma level course could lose their intrinsic value and become no more than the first one or two years of a university course. TAFEs would face a similar problem to schools where at least the latter two years of schooling are strongly structured by the needs of university entrance.

Universities at the moment clearly do not regard the first year of a diploma course as equivalent to the first year of a degree. The students entering diplomas are not the same as students entering universities. Indeed no evidence has been produced that shows students who qualify for an accessible university refusing a place in order to take the cheaper place in a TAFE diploma The goals of diplomas are not the same as the goals of degrees. ‘Joint courses’ might well imply that current diplomas be restructured to meet the requirements of universities. Their value as an alternative pathway would disappear.

None of this discussion implies that credit transfer should not be expanded-and especially made more transparent and certain. At the moment the level of transfer from TAFE to university and the credit granted to those students on the basis of their TAFE studies is often minimal. What is implied, however, is a ‘limit to credit transfer’ imposed by the difference between VET and higher education courses. Currently, this limit and the absence of one-to-one credit transfer arrangements impose costs on students that preserve VET as an alternative pathway to university, keeps HECS-avoidance to minimal levels and may help maintain the integrity of the VET programs.

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Src: Academia

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