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Understanding Australia’s offshore VET student experience

The first study of Australian VET programs delivered overseas shows students enrol in order to gain English language skills that make them more employable, access to foreign cultures and opportunities to work overseas. Justin Brown reports.

The Australian Department of Education and Training engaged ACER to investigate the experiences of students undertaking VET programs delivered to offshore locations by Australian registered training organisations (RTOs) and their delivery partners. The study is part of the Australian Government’s National Strategy for International Education 2025, which includes a goal that focuses on ‘Delivering the best possible student experience’.

ACER’s study identified a lack of existing research literature on the experiences of students enrolled in Australian vocational education and training programs with a foreign institution, as well as a lack of consistent definitions and terminology relating to offshore VET programs.

In order to build and evidence base to inform policy and practice, ACER developed the first ever global survey of students enrolled in Australian VET courses overseas and conducted a series of focus groups with students located in two Chinese provinces. This quantitative and qualitative data was supported by analysis of Total VET Activity (TVA) data on overseas VET enrolments.

Offshore Australian VET was defined as award and non-award programs that lead to a Certificate I-IV or Diploma-level Australian qualification being delivered to students located in a country outside of Australia. The study identified a wide variety of offshore VET delivery methods, including partnering, full delivery, franchising, branch campuses and distance learning. Partnering is the most common delivery method, accounting for 88 per cent of offshore VET.

Around 35 000 students were enrolled in an offshore program in 2017, equating to roughly one per cent of all Australian VET enrolments. Offshore VET programs are offered in 44 countries, with China accounting for two-thirds of total program enrolments. Three-quarters of students are under the age of 25 and the gender balance is almost equal.

Survey responses from students at one large provider identified a number of perceived benefits to completing an international VET course in their home country:

  • Graduate with two qualifications – one Australian and one from the local provider.
  • Opportunities to improve English-language proficiency.
  • An international qualification creates a point-of-difference in an increasingly competitive job market.
  • Opportunities to learn about foreign cultures and international perspectives.
  • Pathways to further education and training at home and overseas.
  • Learning through a different and distinctive approach to training.
  • Access to systems and technologies not available in local alternatives.

The study noted that the push-pull factors influencing ‘onshore’ international students may overlap with, but are distinct from, those influencing students enrolled in an international qualification ‘offshore’.

Two-thirds of students reported enrolling in an international program because their school or college recommended it. Teachers and administrators in China observed that students enrolled in international programs tend to: have a more global perspective than their peers; be smart, motivated, creative and entrepreneurial; and have great potential for further growth.

Students enrolled in Australian offshore VET rated highly the importance of trusted information about the course, but are looking for more information on outcomes and pathways into higher level qualifications at home and overseas after they complete the Australian VET qualification.

The results reinforce the importance of targeting and tailoring information to reach the student at the points at which they are about to engage with Australian training programs. Future work could focus on improving the evidence base on post-training pathways and outcomes from completing an Australian VET program overseas.

These findings represent a new contribution to the evidence base in the form of a set of survey and focus group questionnaires as well as broadly-representative results from one of the largest Australian providers of offshore VET. With greater participation, the research outputs can bring wider benefits by highlighting the success of the sector as a whole. ■

Read the full report:
Survey and Focus Groups of Students Enrolled in Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) Offshore: Final Report by Justin Brown, Wei Buttress and Darren Matthews, ACER (2018).

RD

About the author

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

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View selected works of Justin Brown

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