Less than a third of students in vocational training finish their course despite high intentions when they enrol, figures show.

While more than 90 per cent of students plan to finish their course, only 28 per cent do so, says Student Intentions, a report published by the Australian National Centre for Vocational Education Research yesterday.

Some of those who drop out are unable to juggle study and other commitments, while a few study the units of the course they need then abandon the rest.

The survey did not ask respondents why they left their course, but researcher Tom Karmel said the high gap between intention and retention suggested that institutions were not meeting students’ expectations.

”Obviously there’s a disjunction between people’s expectation at the outset and what happens when they actually do the course,” he said.

”There are always a couple of things going on: most students in VET are part-time and sometimes people find it too difficult to juggle work, study and home life, and things intervene which means they don’t complete.”

Improving satisfaction levels is key to increasing the rate of those who finished their course, Mr Karmel said. ”It’s about engaging with the students, making it easier for the students and making sure that the students like what they’re getting or feel satisfied with what they’re getting. The more satisfied students have higher completion rates.”

One approach to improve retention rates could be to tie government funding to completion rates rather than enrolment figures, a strategy that Mr Karmel said had been employed successfully in England.

The NSW Teachers Federation vehemently opposes linking funding to outcomes. Astrid O’Neill, TAFE organiser for the federation, said it would encourage private providers to herd students through courses at a higher rate than ever.

”That plays exactly into the hands of private providers – they can just tick the boxes and just pass students. That would be the problem if Australia were to move to a MySkills version of completion rates: the moment you focus on completion rates that’s the temptation,” she said.

The deputy director general of TAFE NSW, Pam Christie, said NSW’s completion rate, at 41 per cent, was much higher than the national average. ”We are particularly pleased … because people with higher level qualifications are statistically more likely to get a job, stay employed, get a new job more quickly if they lose their employment,” she said.

The state government released a discussion paper, Smart and Skilled, Making NSW Number One, in September outlining plans to adapt vocational training to meet increased demand for productivity, participation in the workforce and a more skilled workforce.

Ms O’Neill said it showed intention to funnel money away from TAFE towards private operators providing courses of less quality.