Deciding where and how you would like to study is very important. University and vocational education (VET) at a private college or TAFE are arguably the two most popular choices for students looking to get qualified – but are they equal?
The answer is no. They each have their own strengths, and the suitability of a VET or university course will depend on the aspirations and personality of the individual.
VET institutions generally offer certificates and diplomas, whereas universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees – however there are some exceptions to that rule. A person who wants to work in construction doesn’t need a university degree, so a VET certificate is the better, and often required, option. Certificates also involve more practical learning and students are generally required to undertake apprenticeships, which is the perfect way for them to get work experience and a taste of what it’s like working in their career of choice.
On the other hand, certain career paths require a university degree. Jobs in these fields will specify that an undergraduate degree is (almost always) essential to success.
The majority of university courses will require a specific ATAR number (or equivalent score) for applicants to be accepted. VET courses do not require a score; in fact, students can start VET study in Year 10, 11 or 12 if they so wish.
University degrees in Australia operate with the HECS-HELP government loan scheme, meaning fees can be deferred to a time when you’re earning over the threshold. VET institutions such as TAFE offer some courses with VET-FEE HELP, which operates in much the same way as HECS-HELP to delay your costs. Universities, TAFEs and private colleges also have full-fee paying places, and you can apply for assistance with the FEE-HELP scheme for those. Studying at university is generally more expensive than taking a VET course, and there are some government-subsidised VET courses that can reduce course costs even further.
University also offers a far more flexible study program. Students can organise their timetable around work and other commitments and watch lectures online if need be. At TAFE and at private colleges you are most often given a timetable to follow, rather than designing one yourself. There is also more one-on-one teacher assistance and involvement at TAFE and private colleges due to smaller class sizes – however, it depends on the course you’re taking and it is arguable whether or not smaller classes are beneficial in the long run. After all, there are no teachers there to hold your hand in the real world of employment.
So, should you choose university or a VET qualification? The answer is that neither option is better than the other. Universities and VET providers have different strengths and degrees and certificates offer different benefits, so it is up to the individual to choose the institution and qualification that suits them the best and gets them closest to their goals.