Graduates opt for TAFE

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Figures from the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) indicate that 60,000 degree holders are enrolling in vocational education and training (VET) courses at TAFEs and private colleges each year.

Figures from the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) indicate that 60,000 degree holders are enrolling in vocational education and training (VET) courses at TAFEs and private colleges each year.

According to recently appointed ANTA Chairman David Hind this is a good idea.

"Universities are only one component of education," said Hind.

"This is another qualification, tailored for work," he said, adding, "training people for work is important for the competitive economy".

"The Government system subsidises further education across 80 percent of industrial sectors," said Hind, commenting that it is not akin to full-fee paying private education.

Hind also said that the number of enrolments was likely to go up.

However, the recently released survey by the Australian Computer Society indicated that average unemployment in respondents under 25 had increased from 7.4 percent to 12.1 percent -- a figure that may reflect the way students value tertiary qualifications.

Two major Australian universities feel that if student dissatisfaction is to blame it's probably due to poor selection of potential jobs, and the poorly informed selection of degrees.

"This applies mainly to IT students who have [a] good foundation but don't have skills in very specific things," said Professor Paul Compton, Head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of NSW.

"Some employees want students who are smart [and] can pick things up very quickly, but some employees what students who just know one particular skill," he said.

"Some companies value creativity, while others would prefer people in cubicles," said Compton, adding that students should be very aware of the most specific job requirements.

Associate Dean of the faculty of Information Technology at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Associate Professor David Wilson, thinks that the numbers of students leaving university are higher than they would prefer. He attributes this to the lack of education about education.

"Students coming in have a perception of what they want to do -- they find out its not what they expected or what they want to do -- they transfer," Wilson said. "But they still remain in the education system."

"Any inference that large numbers of graduates [are] going to TAFE because they are unskilled is erroneous," he said.

He also said that the Faculty of IT at UTS in fact has a significant intake of students from TAFEs.

"A number of the TAFE diplomas are very good," said Compton. "But we get a lot of students come to us with very specialised and narrow skills."

"To get to more interesting work, they realise they need a broader style qualification."

But Wilson also feels that the student is not always to blame, and that the University Admissions Index (UAI) system used to select students for tertiary education may be forcing students' hands.

"The UAI has issues and limitations," said Wilson, "Students end up doing what they can get into, rather than doing what they like."

"It's a simplistic way of selecting students. It's not a clear indication of how capable you are, but rather an indication of supply and demand," he said.

"Students who score a lower UAI mark can usually cope with a degree that requires a higher UAI."

UNSW's Compton also admits flaws in the system.

"Where we are at fault is that we don't give them [students] entrepreneurial skills -- because many academics lack those skills as well," Compton said.

"I think students do know how to make a choice between working while learning to gain experience," said Compton, adding that universities should stay focused on foundational training.

ANTA's  Hind also suggests students shouldn't be afraid to look into vocational education. "Companies in the IT sector are very supportive of this type of training," he said.

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