University of Tasmania
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Skills policy and equity: a matter of human rights : a grounded theory of equity in policy for vocational education and training (VET)

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posted on 2023-05-27, 11:30 authored by Kitchener, VH
Background Equity in education is defined internationally and in Australia as fairness and inclusion, and these concepts are intrinsic to human rights. Vocational education and training (VET), or technical vocational education and training (TVET) which is the term used by UNESCO (2016), has a nexus with equity in skills policy since in Australia VET is the source of training for skills which learners experiencing disadvantage are most likely to approach to improve their job prospects. Skills can provide access to improved income, health, well-being and social inclusion. There are community benefits also when the skills base is increased. In Australia and internationally, practitioners, policy analysts and researchers argue that equity is compromised by policy that focuses on industry needs and defines learners in terms of units of capital input. There is frequent reference in the literature and in policy to the need to embed equity into skills policy. Aims The aims of the study are to improve understanding of: how to more effectively represent adult learners experiencing disadvantage for the purposes of interpretation in skills policy; and how to incorporate equity as human rights into skills policy. The evolved research questions are: how is equity defined and implemented in skills policy; how might learner disposition inform equity objectives in skills policy; and what should be the key features of governance of equity in skills policy? The intellectual puzzle is: how might equity be embedded into skills policy? This study uses the intellectual puzzle as a framework to research questions to enhance flexibility in the research, to acknowledge that questions may have no answers and to emphasise aspects of relationships in the research. Methodology and Methods The puzzle demanded methodology that would envision or imagine forward. Constructivist grounded theory was an obvious choice through which to understand basic social and organisational problems and processes involving diverse categories of actors in the equity, policy and learning framework. The topic is explored through induction of empirical evidence, interviews, observation and comparison with extant literature. The provenance of the research is equity programs in VET that are delivered through government-provided contested funding in Tasmania by public, private and community registered training organisations (RTOs). Interviews were conducted with adult learners socially categorised in policy as experiencing disadvantage, together with government and institutional policy-makers, teachers and trainers. Constructivist grounded theory provides a new approach to this social justice topic where the prevailing analysis is quantitative. Findings Consistent with constructivist grounded theory, findings are represented in substantive grounded theory and potential formal theory. The delimited substantive grounded theory emerged from empirical evidence and delivered problematic equity‚ÄövÑvp. This is a slice of theory located in a time and circumstances and explores the complexities and conflicts of equity in skills policy. The theory makes learners visible as a process of learner disposition and locates them within policy and organisational frameworks. The potential formal theory is abstracted from the substantive grounded theory, is generic and has prospects for broader application across substantive areas of study. The potential formal theory is alternative equity‚ÄövÑvp. Alternative equity‚ÄövÑvp proposes that there are at least two concepts of equity: neo-equity (a term which emerges from the research) and embedded equity. Neo-equity is primarily a product of the new public management paradigm with the dominant goal of productivity for industry goals and the learner as a unit of human capital input. In neo-equity, most policy-makers do not make the connection between equity and human rights. Embedded equity is represented within a paradigm of new public governance with equity as a matter of human rights taking a dominant position. Embedded equity‚ÄövÑvp draws attention to the role of methodology in policy analysis, distinguishing between contemporary quantitative methodology and opportunity arising from constructivist grounded theory. Conclusions This study locates VET in a human rights recession‚ÄövÑvp in Australia. The study approaches the policy table to argue that reform in the VET sector must also be reform in equity policy. Equity is a matter of human rights but most policy-makers and academic commentators do not see the connection. This study argues that the contemporary Australian position is neo-equity; it eschews human rights law and is not equity at all. Nonetheless, human rights law does not have all the answers to address the equity gap. Equity in skills policy should be governed and embedded in a compatible, new public governance approach to public administration that is grounded in public values. Public administrators and universities must come together to diagnose issues of de-centred network governance; and make visible the transitioning public administration paradigms of new public management and new public governance. Most of all, if meaningful change is to occur, policy analysis should be transformed and new methodologies applied. This study makes visible problematic equity where social justice is re-articulated because of productivity objectives in which the industry demand is dominant. Embedded equity‚ÄövÑvp is proposed to improved understanding of equity as human rights law and what is needed to govern it. Analysis of learner disposition and constructivist grounded theory are exemplified as ways of building new understanding in policy. This matter requires that academic research come to the government policy table to clarify the nexus between VET and equity.


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