Treat technical education like university, says Business Council

Every Australian would receive a "lifelong skills account" to spend as they wished on university or technical education under a new proposal from the Business Council of Australia that would for the first time treat university and vocational education funding the same way.

Launching the report at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the council's chief executive Jennifer Westacott will ask why enrolled nurses who study at technical colleges get less from the public purse than registered nurses who go to university.

"Can someone explain to me why a university nursing student is guaranteed a federal subsidy of $40,000?" she will ask.

"And then can someone explain to me why the vocational education student can access an income-contingent loan of up to $15,000, while the university student can borrow more than six-times that?"

She will say that increasingly people will have to dip in and out of learning to update their skills rather than do full degrees.

And yet "credentialising" gives university degrees a higher status than the technical qualifications that will increasingly be needed in a world where people work together with machines.

"Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a vocational qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one. It isn't," her speech will say.

Sector-neutral "lifelong skills accounts" would replace existing funding schemes and be made up of a taxpayer subsidy and an income-contingent loan that could be used at any approved provider.

"Once you've acquired your first qualification, you will be able to pick subjects and modules to effectively assemble your own credentials by purchasing in both the university and vocational systems," she will say.

The value of each account would be capped over a lifetime, so the funding could be managed.

The Business Council paper also suggests a single national information platform what would help people find industries or jobs that suit them, tell them what kind of income they can expect, describe subsidy and loan repayments for courses, and help them compare providers.

"This is essential to allow people leaving school and work to pick the right course at the right time, especially it the funding is in the hand of the consumer," she will say.

Ms Westacott will also say that schools need to respect students who are not suited for traditional academic learning.

"We need to recognise that intelligence comes in many forms and all children should be able to enjoy school and develop a love of learning," her speech notes say.

"Inquiry-based learning is widely acknowledged to be an effective teaching method. In simple terms, that means a focus on students being able to find and use information, and not just remember information and repeat it. This is crucial for subjects we're falling behind in, like maths."

This story Treat technical education like university, says Business Council first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.