Article 1: The AIH Qualification Requirements

Graham Fletcher (MAIH)

Graham Fletcher (MAIH)

Graham Fletcher has over 45 years of experience in the Australian horticulture sector and brings a wealth of skills, knowledge and insights to the role of AIH's Ambassador Horticulturist.

This is the first of a short series of articles about the role of AIH in furthering education for its members. In this first article, I explain the current situation with horticulture education. See also Article 2 and Article 3 in this series.

Background

AIH members have the Horticulture Certificate 3, Trade Certificate 3, or equivalent as their minimum entry qualification. These qualifications have changed substantially over the last couple of decades, primarily as a result of the changed circumstances in TAFE. TAFE Certificate 3 is the focus of this article.

Certificate 3

Certificate 3 is part of a national standard framework for post-school education – the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)1. In summary, the framework identifies the criteria and expectations for 10 progressive levels: level 3 is trade and vocational training, including horticulture; level 5 is diploma; level 7 is under-graduate degree.

The National Education System

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is the national agency that oversees all higher education in Australia2. This means that TEQSA determines the standards for teaching and administration3.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is the national agency that specifically addresses vocational education and training (VET)4. ASQA has a particular focus on curriculum development and job-ready graduates. At Certificate 3 level, the emphasis is on practical skills. ASQA’s own system of standard educational requirements for registered training organisations includes validation of assessments, both pre and post-delivery5.

On top of these requirements, Australia also has a system for ensuring that students from overseas are able to apply for visas for study at only those educational organisations recognised by the federal authorities. This system is the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS)6. Nationally accredited educational organisations or courses have a unique CRICOS number that shows compliance with the National Code7 which, amongst other things, ensures compliance with the requirements of the national authorities – TEQSA and ASQA.

The national system has been implemented gradually over the last three decades at least and was assumed initially to be a system to ensure acceptance of qualifications between states. Over that time, other influences have probably added to its development, including the Bologna Process which introduced the post-school education standards for all countries in the European Union8.

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) is the federal department responsible for overseeing national education and the national agencies9. DESE indicated in a discussion paper in June 2020 that their focus for funding and support post-COVID-19 will be on job-ready graduates10. There is emphasis in the paper on universities with little detail about VET courses, except that Certificate 3 courses and above are included in this overall strategy. Apprenticeships are mentioned, but it is not known if any other aspect of horticulture will be a targeted area in that strategy.

TAFE

The TAFE system is state-based and primarily state-funded. As the national education system developed, state governments have progressively reduced their financial support for TAFE. This increased financial need means that TAFE relies more on full-fee-paying international students which ties TAFE closer to the national system.

Although there are few international students studying horticulture, colleges relying on these students’ fees have needed to reduce costs for all of their courses. TAFE teachers have doggedly endeavoured to provide the best quality education, but the financial reality is that colleges need to save costs wherever they can. This has meant changes like:

• Reducing the choices for students, particularly in the options provided in smaller colleges where qualifications are often blended;
• Moving to on-line training with standard delivery and little on-line support;
• Reducing practical skills-based classes since they are more expensive to run than theory classes – smaller student to staff ratio for safety, and the cost of resources; and
• Increased need for additional support staff to support students with special needs and learning difficulties in the larger classes.

COVID-19 has worsened the situation with the long-term effects of closed international borders, and further changes needed to reduce costs further.

What Impact Does This Have On AIH?

In Article 2, I set out ideas to assist with the on-going education of AIH members. AIH needs to respond to the changes brought about by the post COVID-19 environment.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for successful events? Comment below and contribute to our discussion.

ARTICLE 1 REFERENCES

1       https://www.aqf.edu.au/aqf-levels

2       https://www.teqsa.gov.au/

3       https://www.teqsa.gov.au/higher-education-standards-framework-2015

4       https://www.asqa.gov.au/standards

5       https://www.asqa.gov.au/rto/responsibilities

6       https://cricos.education.gov.au/

7       https://www.teqsa.gov.au/national-code-practice

8       https://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/about-education-policies_en

9       Two federal departments merged in Feb 2020 to form the Department of Education, Skills and Employment https://www.dese.gov.au/

10     Job-ready Graduates Higher Education Reform Package, 2020 https://www.dese.gov.au/job-ready

ACRONYMS

AIH             Australian Institute of Horticulture

AQF           Australian Qualifications Framework

ASQA         Australian Skills Quality Authority

CRICOS      Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students

DESE          National Department of Education, Skills and Employment

TAFE          Technical and Further Education

TEQSA       Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency

VET        Vocational Education and Training

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