Thursday, February 02, 2012

Student Loans and Subsidies for Vocational Courses

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced low cost loans for vocational students and subsidies for entry-level courses in high demand job categories. Foundation and entry-level courses would be directly subsidized by the federal government, in areas such as health, business, hospitality, communications, construction and transport. For longer Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses, students could apply for a loan to cover the cost (similar to the scheme already in place for university courses). Students would be "guaranteed" a government-subsidized training place, but it is not clear what measures will be put in place to meet the likely demand and so honor that guarantee.

It is not clear how educational standards will be maintained under a sudden increased demand. Australian governments have funded the development of e-learning for the vocational sector over several years and this would be one way to meet the new demand cost effectively and maintain standards. This would also allow students to more easily study and work at the same time. However, more funding would be needed to train course developers and tutors in the new techniques needed for e-learning.

National Education e-Portfolio for All

One initiative the Australian Government could introduce would be free national registration for vocational students open to all citizens and access to free online course material for all. Rather than the current system where a student registers separately with each educational institution, they would register with the national system and have an e-portfolio which they could use at whichever institutions they attend, vocational or higher education. Any citizen could also make use of free educational material on-line.

Free e-Learning for All

At present TAFE institutions produce e-learning material. These materials are registered in a national database for easy access. But TAFEs then try to sell it to each other, for little financial return, but requiring large administrative costs. Instead the Federal Government could purchase a license for the material and make it freely available to all citizens.

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