An Australian writer explains how Australian students choose between vocational and university courses, in response to the student question should I pick Uni or TAFE?

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 Australian students have always held the university degree in high esteem. According to a survey by On Track, 53.2 percent of school leavers were enrolled in universities in 2013, compared with 42.6 percent in 2003.

Meanwhile, only 15.8 percent enrolled in TAFE (Technical and Further Education) courses in 2013. Ten years beforehand, the number was a relatively whopping 25.8 percent.

School leavers gravitate to universities for the cachet of these institutions and the prospect of a high income after graduation. It also helps that the Australian government has removed enrollment caps on universities, effectively loosening admission requirements to enrollees.

Wrong decisions are easily made in this scenario though. Students, many with average marks or still indecisive over their career plans, could easily succumb to the lure of an uncapped university when they could have made a more cost-effective choice in a TAFE institute. 

Difference between TAFE and university

In general, universities bank more on theory than practice, with the goal of equipping students with analytic and problem-solving skills in their chosen fields. Then again, many university degrees come with capstone projects and on-the-job trainings for students to put theory into practice.

TAFE prepares tuition mainly around the purpose of getting employment or starting an entrepreneurial undertaking. The skills taught in a TAFE course are very specific and pertinent to the jobs or businesses you intend to take thereafter.

University is pedantic when it comes to assessing school leavers’ grades, although due to the aforementioned uncapping policy, students with low ATARs can easily apply for university studies now.

TAFE courses do not demand as much admission requirements. At the very least, leavers only need to prove they have finished Year 10 or Year 12 in high school. Some TAFE institutes require having already taken up some degree of employment too.

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Benefits of getting TAFE

A surfeit of university enrollees may mean a failed return on investment. There are many cases of individuals graduating from university, only to land menial jobs due to stiff competition, never to repay their student debts.  For example, around 12,000 law graduates enter a market for only 60,000 solicitors every year.

This is where TAFE begs to differ. Demand for vocationally and technically skilled graduates has never been higher. Companies expressly seek out people with TAFE qualifications relevant to their industries.

TAFE readies students for practical responsibilities in a work environment. Otherwise, graduates of TAFE courses may parlay their qualifications into university degrees.

Another benefit to be had from a TAFE course is the teacher-student ratio. University characteristically runs big classes, while TAFE could offer one-on-one tuition.

Range of qualifications

TAFE courses offer a range of qualifications, stratified from the lowest certificates to the highest graduate diplomas. The qualifications progress from those that provide generalist skills to those that let students specialise in an industry.

Certificate I means you have learned skills needed for a basic, repetitive job. Certificate II means you have the training in place to achieve entry-level objectives. Certificate III is given to TAFE students who have honed certain problem-solving and analytic skills.

These three certificates are awarded in less than six months. For a longer time, you can achieve Certificate IV, which indicates preparedness for managerial and supervisory positions.

On the other hand, TAFE diplomas require up to three years of studies. Advanced Diploma is awarded to students who have demonstrated a certain high level of professional, technical and creative skills in their chosen industries. Finally, the Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma is the highest TAFE qualification you can get; it is equivalent to a university degree with honours.

How to apply for TAFE

It doesn’t have to be an either-or thing though. A dual-sector institution can easily facilitate shifting between TAFE and university through relevant pathways. You may opt to take TAFE part-time, in the evenings after work, or via the Internet.

Although most TAFE courses need no more academic evidence than having passed Year 10 or 12 in high school, check with the institute at hand for extra admission requirements, e.g. an artist’s portfolio, additional exams, etc. You can also negotiate for special admission.

TAFE sets you out on a path to a stable job, a higher income stream, or your own business. University is not your only choice.

Read more about Technical and Further Education

Joel Mayer is an Australian freelance writer and blogger.  He loves to write about International Education, study institutions, latest trends in education and reviews companies

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