NCVER’s latest VET data is disappointing, not discouraging

Are the recent declines in VET enrolment and completion numbers revealed by the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) data further support for what VET is (now) doing right?

Down. Down. Down. Down.

It’s a word repeated time and time again following some recent data releases from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) which measure key VET success metrics.

VET student numbers as a whole are down. Subject enrolments are down. Apprentice completion rates are down. Trainee completion rates? Down. Enrolments in government-funded courses other than TAFEs are down. Participation rates by 15 – 19 year olds in VET courses are down. Victorian enrolments? They’re down. Diploma enrolments? Down. Certificate IV, II and I qualifications?

You guessed it. All down.

Before heads sink down into hands, to the tops of desks – or even into hastily filled glasses of something strong on the rocks – it’s worth RTOs getting some more perspective on the latest batch of data from NCVER. Before we do, let’s look at some of the key data points NCVER has released.

The NCVER data

NCVER released two batches of data in July that crunch the VET sector’s headline figures from 2018. The first, Government-funded students and courses 2018, looks at the number and makeup of students in government-funded VET courses in 2018. The second, Completion and attrition rates 2018, charts the outcomes being seen among apprentices and trainees over the period since 2014.

Below, we revisit some of the highlights (and lowlights) from this data:

Government-funded students and courses 2018

NCVER’s data shows there were 1747 training organisations that delivered government-funded VET in 2018. These included 35 TAFEs, 10 other government providers and 357 community education providers. The remainder were 1403 providers who are labelled ‘other providers’.

  • Student numbers as a whole decreased by 1.9% compared with 2017, with subject enrolments down 5.7% and hours and full-year training equivalents (FYTEs) decreasing by 6.4%;
  • While students attending TAFE and other government providers were up by 0.9% and students attending community education increased by 2.8%, other providers saw a 5.3% decrease;
  • Student numbers weren’t down in all states. In New South Wales they increased by 2.5% (or 9900 students) and the Australian Capital Territory was up 7% (or 1200 students). However, other states declined, including an 8.5% drop in Victoria (the largest at 25,300 students);
  • 6.7% of Australians between the ages of 15 and 64 participated in the VET system in 2018, down on the 6.9% participation rate that was recorded in 2017;
  • 19.4% of the Australian population who were aged between 15 and 19 years participated in the government-funded VET system in 2018, down by 3.1% on the rate seen in 2017.
  • The number of enrolments in Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) programs at Certificate I or higher levels declined by 6.3% to 1.14 million program enrolments.

Unfortunately, this followed broad declines over the 2016-2017 period. These included a 6.5% drop in TAFE enrolments and a 5.9% drop in government-funded VET program enrolments over 2016-2017.

Devil in the data?

The value of NCVER’s data is that it takes a detailed pulse of activity in the VET market in Australia, as well as some of the outcomes that are being achieved across the board. In doing so, it allows us all to benchmark how the sector as a whole is performing year-on-year, and look for the long-term trends that will inform things like Government policy, so we can shape VET’s course into the future.

However, what we think gets missed is the work that individual RTOs have been doing since this data was captured in 2018 to continue to deliver the professional training that an estimated 1.1 million VET students are demanding and expecting from their education and training providers in 2019. If anything, the data recognises the ‘why’ behind the innovation already taking place at these RTOs.

VETtrak is the most recognised student management system in the RTO market and, as part of ReadyTech, a technology provider to the largest number of RTOs in Australia. We know that this innovation is happening. Our people and our consultants see it on the ground in the market every day, and we know that many providers will have exciting things to share as they move forward.

That’s why when the data is down, we can allow it to be disappointing. But not discouraging.

What goes down must come…

The challenges the VET sector faces in 2019 – reflected in the NCVER data – are well understood. In fact, VETtrak’s RTO Industry Australia Report 2018, which surveyed 444 RTOs across Australia last year, found the reputation of VET was named as the biggest pressure point (by 39% of respondents).

Thankfully, the RTO sector in Australia today is one that is full of committed, progressive providers who are doing their utmost to deliver students the skills they will need for the careers of the future. As a sector, there is an understanding we need to continue to improve our customer proposition.

This will be helped by more positive representations of the value of VET in the public sphere. Just one example is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent intervention when he declared that “TAFE is as good uni”, saying he wanted to raise the status of vocational education and training in Australia.

Part of the improvement will be through technology – somewhere that VETtrak comes in. We’re always looking to up our game and help RTOs better manage their businesses to deliver outcomes, through advances in our student management technology. Just one example is ReadyTech’s continuing investment in tools that will help our VET customers, like recent research that revealed some of the key factors that affect apprentice completion rates. This has already resulted in a new tool for customers who deal with apprentices – the Completion Analytical Predictor (CAP) – which can predict the likelihood of apprentice completion so support can be directed where it’s needed.

VETtrak will continue doing its part. Through initiatives like Voice of VET, we hope to add our voice to that of the RTO industry, to support all of the hard-working RTOs out there to raise their issues and find solutions that will result in a stronger VET sector.

Future trends will also play their part. As we move into a more skills-oriented economy that will demand lifelong learning through smaller, bite-sized chunks of training and micro-credentialling, VET is well placed to seize the opportunity presented to grow and prosper over the long-term.

While the force of gravity (or negative data) can be strong, it’s important not to let it get us down. Because the truth is what goes down, must come up. And (despite the data) we think it already is.