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Initial teacher education online throws a curve ball to teacher workforce planners

24 February 2017

A new analysis of trends in initial teacher education is helping workforce planners to better project future teacher supply at the state and territory level.

The growing trend in initial teacher education towards online study at an interstate university may lead to state and territory governments underestimating – or overestimating – their future teacher workforce supply, according to the authors of an article published in the Australian Journal of Education this month.

ACER Research Director Dr Daniel Edwards and ACER Senior Research Fellow Dr Paul Weldon analysed domestic university completion numbers in initial teacher education courses from 2005 to 2013 (the most recently available data) and found that completions of students studying online increased by 57 per cent, compared to just four per cent for on-campus study.

According to Drs Edwards and Weldon, this growth has significant implications for state and territory governments when estimating their teaching workforce because the conventional method for doing so relies on data from university campuses within their jurisdiction, as it is assumed that students live in the state or territory of the university in which they are enrolled, and are most likely to seek employment in that same state or territory.

‘With online delivery, however, students could potentially be enrolled on the other side of the country (or the world) from the physical location of their institution,’ Drs Edwards and Weldon note.

In 2013, 22.5 per cent of all online initial teacher education completers, or approximately 680 potential new teachers, had a home address in a different state or territory to the one in which their higher education institution was located.

The Northern Territory (NT) had the highest proportion of out-of-jurisdiction completions, with 77 per cent residing in a different state or territory, compared to 33 per cent in Tasmania, around 20 per cent in Western Australia, 17.5 per cent in Queensland, 13.5 per cent in Victoria and around 12.5 per cent in New South Wales. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) did not record any online completions at all in 2013, and South Australia (SA) had too few to reliably analyse.

Drs Edwards and Weldon note that some jurisdictions are benefiting from growth in online initial teacher education while others are losing. Victoria, for example, reported more than 200 residents completing initial teacher education in another state or territory, suggesting a larger pool of potential teachers for that state than Victorian university data might suggest. In NT, however, among a total cohort of 477 initial teacher education completers in 2013, more than 300 were not actually living in NT, suggesting the actual teacher workforce supply in NT may be smaller than it appears.

Examining the data by qualification level, postgraduate completers were more likely than undergraduate completers to be residing in a different state or territory to the institution in which they were enrolled. This was the case across Australia as a whole and in all states and territories except ACT and SA, as well as Tasmania, where the undergraduate cohort was more likely to reside outside of this state than the postgraduate cohort.

Drs Edwards and Weldon note that further nuance would be gained by examining online initial teacher education completions by early childhood, primary and secondary education sector, and field of speciality, as these are both key elements in any consideration of the teaching workforce.

‘Given the trend towards online enrolments, it is anticipated that the complexity of matching supply with workforce projections at the state level is likely to increase into the future,’ Drs Edwards and Weldon write. â– 

Read the full report:
‘Understanding teacher supply: Where do online Initial Teacher Education students fit?’ by Daniel Edwards and Paul Weldon, Australian Journal of Education, Vol. 61, Issue 1 (2017).

The Australian Journal of Education is published by the Australian Council for Educational Research in association with SAGE Publications.

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