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Research Developments from ACER

Vocational & Adult

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Improving our understanding of learner choice in VET

Research now underway aims to shed more light on what we know about the choices of young people when navigating the VET environment, as Justin Brown explains.

The youth unemployment rate since the Global Financial Crisis has reached its highest level since 1998. But what these headline statistics do not reveal are the significantly high rates of youth unemployment in some parts of Australia. It is in locations where youth unemployment is high that vocational education and training (VET) plays a vital role in improving the lives of our most vulnerable young people.

The freedom to choose

With the introduction of market-based training systems, VET policy has increasingly focused on the importance of improving student choice of registered training organisation (RTO) and course. However, the evidence base on what constitutes an ‘informed consumer’ in VET is not well understood, particularly from a student perspective. For young people living in areas of high youth unemployment and entrenched disadvantage, the extent to which they can exercise ‘freedom of choice’ is highly contextualised in terms of their local opportunities.

The rise and fall of youth participation rates in disadvantaged locations can have little to do with a market-based conceptualisation of ‘choice’. More important is the ‘freedom to choose’ from a range of trusted alternatives.

New research by ACER to explore the policy and operations of Australia’s VET system, funded by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), is exploring the choices of young people when navigating the VET environment ‘in their words’. 

Key questions about student choice

How do young people inform themselves of their training options?  Which practices currently occur and why? What are the features of good practice that effectively communicate VET information to young people? And what is driving the communication of messages about VET choices and outcomes?

At a glance

The research is investigating:

  • the drivers influencing student behaviour, and their impact on choice of provider and course in competitive training markets;
  • the awareness and perceived value of entitlements to training, from the students’ perspective;
  • the extent to which these choices are restricted by local training supply and labour market needs; and
  • the extent to which the VET system and underpinning RTO practices are responding consistently in terms of equipping young people with information needed to make an ‘informed choice’. ■

Further information:

Reports from the NCVER-funded research by ACER will be made available later this year and in 2017 at ACEReSearch.


About the author

Dr Justin Brown is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER's Tertiary Education research program. 

More [rd] articles by Justin Brown

View selected works of Justin Brown

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