KPMG releases damning recommending for overhaul of 'patchy' tertiary system

02 August 2018 4 min. read
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Global Big Four professional services firm KPMG has released a report which suggests Australia should reimagine its tertiary system in order to prepare for an ‘unknown’ and disrupted future. The core components of the plan are nationalising the VET/TAFE system and combining it with university through a unified and publicly-funded network. 

The report, which is titled ‘Reimagining Tertiary Education: From binary system to ecosystem’, does not intend to be an attack on the existing system but rather a voice to start a pivotal discussion.

A cornerstone of KPMG’s proposal is to introduce a national tertiary education system and training system which spans from certificates and diplomas all the way to masters and PhDs. University and VET would be amalgamated into a singular, unified and publicly-funded higher education ecosystem.

The extra bill to the Australian taxpayer would be between $1 billion and $2.4 billion according to the KPMG authors. “This ecosystem must be supported by public funds: experience shows that private markets alone will fail to deliver the education and training outcomes we seek as a whole,” states the report.

However, for the consultancy, the money is far less important than the outcome – which may determine the country’s competitiveness in the future. “Our nation needs to move beyond an unstable and outmoded distinction between higher education and VET,” states the report.

KPMG releases damning recommending for completeoverhaul of “patchy” tertiary system in Reimagining Tertiary Education: From binary system to ecosystem

By setting a level playing field where all providers can compete, higher education institutions – public or private – will become more innovative and provide higher quality services. Moreover, an overhaul will allow Australia to prepare for the huge global shift to the future of the workforce, driven by advances in technology.

Today’s binary system is so rigid that rethinking it seems almost impossible for the 52 experienced tertiary education professionals involved in the report. The back and forward situation which is endemic to Australian politics has created what KPMG describe as a “seemingly equal and opposite force of fatalism”.

“Conceptually, the distinction is unstable, with many university courses now strongly vocational, and many vocational courses with clear theoretical underpinnings,” says coauthor of the report Professor Stephen Parker AO, National Education Sector Lead.

“Nationally, the tertiary system, if indeed it is a system, could charitably be described as patchy. Funding and loan schemes work inconsistently, and are the product of ad hoc arguments over the decades between Commonwealth and States. Some jurisdictions invest more than others in skills training,” he added.

“Institutionally, we hear repeatedly about too much sameness within higher education – “mimetic drift” it has been called – due to internal culture, regulation, funding and social attitudes. From a workforce perspective, we produce more graduates than ever before but have chronic skills shortages in many parts of the country.”

According to the professional services firm, the change must happen in order to prepare Australia’s next generation workforce for the technological transition currently underway. The plan put forward by KPMG Australia is a tertiary system which has been designed to harness the complex challenge of a world turned upside down by technology.

“To lock ourselves too firmly into one model or one principle is highly dangerous. We don’t know whether the bachelor degree will remain the centre of gravity of higher education. We don’t know how far non-award, micro-credentials will take hold: if employers recognise them and students want them, the market will provide them.” 

“We don’t know whether the future really is about more skills and less disciplinary knowledge. Nor do we know which skills, or whether we have academic and training workforces able to pass them on.” KPMG goes on to issue a stark warning; “Get it right and Australia can thrive competitively, enjoy good standards of living, and have a fair and civilised society. Get it wrong, and the opposite will be true.”