This paper reports on research conducted by the authors on behalf of the Australian National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC), which was established in 2009 to provide independent advice to the Standing Council on Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (SCOTESE) on how disadvantaged learners can achieve better outcomes from vocational education and training (VET). The paper draws on interviews conducted with more than 60 VET managers and staff, students and student organisations, and a range of VET stakeholders in all Australian states and territories. The authors were required to conduct a review and analysis of effective models and underpinning principles for gathering and responding to feedback from learners, particularly disadvantaged learners. Participants were asked particularly about learner voice regulatory frameworks and provider accountability for acting on feedback from learners, particularly disadvantaged learners.
The paper will report on an ongoing research project being conducted by the authors, on behalf of the Australian National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC), in which we are required to conduct “a review and analysis of effective models and underpinning principles for gathering and responding to feedback from learners, particularly disadvantaged learners”. The term “learner voice” is used throughout the NVEAC documentation to describe engagement with students of vocational education and training. But the “voice” that has unashamedly dominated the policy discourse in vocational and adult education and training in recent decades has been that of business and industry. Recently, however, particularly in England during the final term of the New Labour administration, and increasingly is some Scandinavian and European countries, a renewed emphasis on policies of social inclusion has introduced the notion of “learner voice” into policy considerations. Especially important are the voices of learners who are perceived to be disadvantaged or marginalised. In Australia, too, discourses of both inclusion and human capital have led to policies of involving students, their interests and their views in some way in the education project. The engagement of students with the tertiary education sector and institutions has come to be regarded as a way of promoting students’ learning by making their education and training more relevant to, and inclusive of, their “needs” while simultaneously contributing to the more efficient utilisation of human capital in an increasingly competitive national economy. Such inclusiveness, therefore, is promoted as facilitating the twin virtues of equity and efficiency, and is seen by some as having the potential to empower learners and transform their learning experience, and also to transform and expand Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Adult and Community Education (ACE). The paper will critically examine the dynamics of the vet policy framework and the range current practice in relation to learner voice. It will particularly emphasise contradictions in both practice and policy in relation to who speaks and with what authority, and who listens to what effect.