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You are reading: Disadvantaged learners and VET to higher education transitions

Written by Tabatha Griffin, Senior Research Officer, National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)


The vocational education and training (VET) system provides opportunities for individuals to undertake training for employment-related reasons, to enable further study, or for personal interest and development. Vocational education and training also often provides an entry point to the education system for individuals who have experienced barriers to participation in education (Curtis 2009). When considering VET for those individuals belonging to one or more equity group, access and participation alone only tell part of the story. How students participate, and the outcomes they achieve, is also important.

For many people in equity groups, lower-level qualifications (certificate levels I and II, for example) may provide an entry point to the VET system. While these qualifications might offer some personal benefits, such as improved self-esteem, the employment and further study outcomes for prime- and mature-aged students have been shown to be limited (Stanwick 2006). There is a question about whether disadvantaged students are using those qualifications as a stepping stone to further study at higher levels.

Graduates of higher-level VET qualifications are more likely to be employed after training (NCVER 2012a) and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) considers a certificate III to be the minimum-level qualification for improving employment outcomes (Council of Australian Governments Reform Council 2010). This trend has been shown to hold true in those equity groups where it has been investigated; for example, Polidano and Mavromaras (2010) showed that the completion of a VET qualification at certificate III or above significantly improved the employment of people with a disability.

In response to the Bradley Review (Bradley et al. 2008), the federal government set an objective to increase participation in higher education for some equity groups, especially those from a low socioeconomic background (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 2009). Transition from lower-level VET to higher-level VET qualifications and into higher education is one way of meeting government targets and increasing participation at those education levels more likely to lead to employment.

The focus of this paper is to synthesise what is currently published on the access and participation of disadvantaged learners in higher-level VET qualifications and higher education, and their transitions from lower-level VET qualifications to higher-level VET and higher education. Where possible, the aim is to focus on the learners’ perspectives.

The paper will consider a number of equity groups: Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, those from rural/remote locations, those with non-English speaking backgrounds, younger people and older people. It needs to be noted that these are not homogenous groups and individuals may experience multiple disadvantage.

Read more: Disadvantaged learners and VET to higher education transitions

Griffin, T. 2014. “Disadvantaged learners and VET to higher education transitions.” NCVER, Adelaide, Australia.