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Higher technical skills: Learning from the experiences of English FE colleges and Australian technical and further education institutes

Madeleine King (New College Durham, Durham, UK)
Melinda Waters (TAFE Directors Australia, Sydney, Australia)
John Widdowson (New College Durham, Durham, UK)
Arti Saraswat (Independent Researcher, London, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 14 November 2016




The purpose of this paper is to report the findings of a joint study carried out with groups of colleges in England and technical and further education (TAFE) institutes in Australia. It looks at the factors which promote the delivery of higher technical skills and the infrastructure arrangements that are needed for success. It relates these to the debate concerning the promotion of higher and degree apprenticeships (HAs and DAs) in England.


The report is derived from a series of interviews with college and TAFE staff. A policy comparison is also included to provide context.


The outcome of the study suggests that similar factors affect the decision to offer, pursue and contribute to the development of higher technical skills in both countries. HAs and DAs are an English construct and the experience of colleges involved in HAs adds a valuable contribution to discussions surrounding the marketing and delivery of DAs. The Australian decision not to pursue either structure encourages reflection on what it is that governments are trying to achieve and what lessons can be learned from their approach.

Research limitations/implications

The study was carried out within the non-university sector in both countries. Colleges and TAFE institutes are more likely to offer practice-based higher education (HE), have teaching staff with industry backgrounds and have long-established engagement with employers that may be found within universities. The paper was therefore written from a distinctive environment. However, it is likely that the issues identified apply to universities and private providers of HE as much as to colleges and TAFEs.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that developing HAs or DAs should not be seen merely as just another marketing opportunity. The hybrid nature of both structures requires a holistic approach to delivery on the part of institutional leaders that leads to significant overhaul of internal communications networks, quality assurance schemes and staff development.


The paper is one of relatively few published documents which focus on the role of dual sector colleges and TAFE institutes in the delivery of HE and higher technical skills. It offers insight into how government pressure for a particular style of HE, deemed necessary for the national economic interest of both countries, can be made into a reality. By using the expertise that already exists within the college and TAFE sectors and their established links with employers, more effective changes can be made at a faster pace.



King, M., Waters, M., Widdowson, J. and Saraswat, A. (2016), "Higher technical skills: Learning from the experiences of English FE colleges and Australian technical and further education institutes", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 329-344.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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