Australian tertiary courses are divided between two sectors: Vocational Education and Training (VET) and higher education. If you’re not sure which one is best for you, read on as we answer some of the most common questions about choosing between VET and higher education.

What is the difference between VET and higher education?
VET courses include certificates I to IV, diplomas and advanced diplomas. These are lower-level qualifications than those offered in the higher education sector, which include bachelor degrees, graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, masters degrees and doctoral degrees. VET study provides graduates with the practical skills they need for certain industries and roles. Courses in the higher education sector tend to have more of an academic focus, although many degrees have a vocational focus (such as those in the fields of agriculture and design, for example).

What should I study to enter my chosen career?
Before selecting your course, ensure that it will allow you to enter your preferred occupation. Keep in mind that the VET sector provides lower-level qualifications that will prepare you for practical occupations such as skilled trades (plumbing and carpentry, for instance) and supporting roles in fields such as administration and health services. There are, however, some professions (such as architecture, dentistry, law and medicine) that require graduates to hold a degree from the higher education sector in order to gain professional registration and practise in the field. Many occupations do not require higher education study, although students often choose to pursue further education in order to improve their job prospects. A student aspiring to work in a management role in the hospitality industry, for example, might choose a higher education degree rather than a VET qualification.

Where can I study these courses?
VET courses are offered by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), which may include government-owned TAFE institutes, private colleges and industry associations. Higher education courses have traditionally been offered by universities, but can now also be studied at many private providers and TAFE institutes. A number of Australian universities have dual-sector status, which means that they offer both VET and higher education courses. Note that there are some degrees (medicine, for example) that can only be studied at universities.

What are my options for qualification progression?
If you want to work your way up the qualifications ladder, there are many pathways from the VET sector into higher education programs. This is a good option if you want to start out with a lower-level qualification in order to get accustomed to the Australian education system or if you want to try out a field of study with a shorter VET course before beginning a lengthy degree. You may be eligible for credit through your institution’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) scheme, but check to be sure.

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