VET – A Pathway to the Straight & Narrow

The University of Melbourne Faculty of Business & Economics recently released a working paper entitled Vocational Education and Training: A Pathway to the Straight and Narrow.

The paper looks at the connection, if any, between post tertiary education and crime rates by taking advantage of Vocational Education and Training (VET) reform in Victoria between 2010 and 2013 in what it calls a ‘natural experiment’. VET is the main channel for further education for early school leavers, school graduates not attending university, and mature-aged people returning to study.

It cites four channels via which education is thought to reduce crime. They are:

  1. Obtaining legitimate work through education can lead to future earns and prevent persons turning to crime to source income,
  2. The classroom environment promotes pro-social norms which improves behaviour in the real world,
  3. Education can assist in the development of skills such as patience or risk aversion which reduces involvement in crime, and
  4. Simply, time in the classroom can have an “incapacitating” effect on crime.

The paper calls for ‘causal evidence’ as there are reasons to believe that the crime-reducing benefits of vocational education may be minute. One particular explanation is that offering improved employment opportunities can be countered by an increase in criminal activity in the “concentration of disadvantaged people”, as has been found in past educational interventions.


The study compared Victoria’s early adoption of a National reform to NSW’ supply-driven funding model. The former saw a 75% increase in students between 2010 and 2013 whilst the latter displayed standard growth rates. By then correlating postcode data with respect to VET enrolments and crime statistics across three age groups (16-25, 26-34 and 35-44), the study found reductions in person (primarily assault), property (primarily theft) and drug (primarily use and possession) crime between 4.5% and 12.8%. Finally, these reductions were measured against the cost of crime to the community through lost productivity and health costs with the ultimate conclusion being that for every dollar spent expanding VET education, the community saved 18 cents or a saving of $72 million dollars.

VET Structure

Under the former supply driven model, a fixed number of government funded places in various VET courses were offered generally on a ‘first com first serve’ basis, though preference was in some instances given to recent early school leavers.

In 2008 a national agreement was struck between the state, territory and federal governments to introduce a demand based system for VET enrolments to increase participation. Victoria was the first state to implement the reforms, fully commencing its uncapped entitlement scheme in 2010. In short, the scheme makes VET far more accessible as its allocations are open as opposed to the old model where positions were fixed.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest increases were seen in participation were for males (97%) in the youngest age bracket (132%).

The study’s results with respect to drug crime juxtaposes a previous 2014 study which found “no significant effect on drug crime from increases in minimum schooling”. Interestingly, it found that despite a doubling in the participation rate for young people, the comparable decrease in drug related crime was far less than that seen in the reductions for prime-aged and mature-aged groups. One explanation for this was that “crime at this age is driven more by social networks than future labour market opportunities”

Whilst some of the findings may appear obvious at first glance, the study is one of few with respect to size, time and the ‘natural experiment’ which was uncapped VET placements in Victoria measured against a comparable sample (socio-economically, politically, and structurally) in NSW which retained the existing supply model.

Due to the costs associated with supporting such a large increase in VET enrolments, the Victorian government has altered its funding model since 2013 to target the entitlement at specific occupations. As a result, VET participation has fallen.

Our experiences

We often encourage clients, and particularly young clients, to engage in educational programs and commonly refer to their participation as a mitigating factor in a criminal plea. In addition to the four points raised by the paper above, it can demonstrate to a Court that the client is motivated to alter their behaviour for the better and has a future goal to work towards and focus their energies upon. Further, an unfortunate reality of having a criminal record is that it can hinder employment prospects. Any form of education, and particularly that undertaken post offending can go a long way to countering that disadvantage.

Download a copy of the paper “Vocational Education and Training: A Pathway to the Straight and Narrow”

If you want to talk to a Criminal lawyer in Melbourne about any of the above, or for a free case assessment, please call us on 03 9034 7351 or email to

Tom Isaacs

Tom Isaacs

Bachelor of Laws with Honours - LLB(Hons)

Tom has been part of the firm for the past 10 years, working initially as a law clerk and now as a fully qualified Solicitor. He completed his Bachelor of Laws with Honours at Deakin University, and undertook his legal training at the Leo Cussen Insititute where he was president of his class. Tom appears regularly at Magistrates' Courts, both metropolitan and in regional Victoria.