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The UK is rethinking university degrees and Australia should too

Stephen Parker, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra, writes in The Conversation (30.8.17) about so-called 'degree apprenticeships' being rolled out in the UK, bridging the gap between technical skills, employment and higher education. The author ponders whether there is scope for something similar in Australia's higher educaiton sector.

'There are growing calls for a debate about the role of post-school in society, both in Australia and overseas. After 30 years of constant expansion, some complain that universities have become too vocational in nature – too focused on jobs, not enough on the art of inquiry.

'At the same time, the vocational education sector is reeling from 15 years of funding cuts and the aftershocks of failed free-market experiments. Numbers in trade apprenticeships and traineeships are plummeting. Less than 30% of vocational students in Australia work in the areas in which they studied.

'The same is true of higher education. An annual survey of university graduates from 2014 shows that 54% of all bachelor’s degree holders said their qualification was a formal requirement for their job. But the proportion ranged from one in four humanities graduates to 96% of medical graduates. The more regulated the profession, the more degree and career path are likely to be correlated.

'The British higher education system is rolling out an alternative education route. Degree apprenticeships were launched in the UK in 2015. These are designed to bridge the gap between technical skills, employment and higher education.

'... Supporters say the initiative is good for employers and good for students, especially for disadvantaged students. They not only struggle to get into higher education (despite an uncapped system) but are also much more likely to drop out of it.'

 

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