University or Vocational Education – How to choose the right course for you?

February 16, 2016
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We are often approached by students with different aspirations and skill levels who find it difficult to decide which fashion design course to enroll in and often ask for advice on how to assess the merit and compare courses, which is what inspired us to write this blog.

A lot of students we see believe that they will be able to design, pattern make and construct a garment at the end of their education, but this is often not the case in the Australian education arena. It depends on the type of training you choose to undertake. The first choice to make is whether a university course or vocational education would be right for you.

Students need to consider how they would like to work at the end of their training.  If they wish to work in a small business, enter the fashion industry at an assistant level or create their own label, then vocational education may be more appropriate as it includes more hands-on training. In the vocational level, you may also receive practical training in business and marketing techniques.

University level courses are pitched at a more management level for larger businesses and may not require you to even create a sample garment yourself, especially in Australia, where the emphasis is on overseas manufacturing. You need to review the curriculum and determine if the subjects you undertake will give you the skills you are seeking. At university, you can expect an emphasis on design, but will generally find that you only do basic units on pattern making and sewing.

We have had students from all major Sydney fashion universities join our short courses wanting to learn basic skills to be work-ready or seeking help with their major works. Some do express disappointment that their courses do not contain these skills. Tip: Do your homework and research well before enrolling in a course, so you know what skills you will graduate with.

We, of course, have to declare our interest at this point. We believe that Australia is not a country with a large number of manufacturing concerns to support graduates with design skills only. The current market employment need, according to government research, is for students with garment specification, pattern making and grading skills, which are all taught at the vocational level. The majority of employers in the Australian design and manufacturing market are small businesses. Small businesses need all-round skills as well as innovation to survive in a global economy that has seen massive changes in the industry in the last 20 years – and hence our choice of curriculum.

Once you have decided between vocational and university education, here is our list of what you should look for in order to compare and evaluate the different educational offerings available:

* Ensure that emphasis is placed on the skills you want to learn to meet your career goals.

* Ensure that the method of delivery of training suits you. Skills that are technical, visual and practical are often easier to learn in a face to face teaching environment, especially if class sizes permit individual attention. Flexibility is also important in a course, or you may find yourself left behind because you missed a lesson or frustrated at the pace when you find new skills are easily acquired.

* You need to consider the cost associated with your choice of course, especially if you find you will need to acquire more skills to enter the Australian market. Degrees can cost double the amount of vocation education and leave debts that take years to repay.

* Class sizes – this is a very important factor if you are going to learn pattern making and construction skills. Some classes have 20 or more students to one teacher. You can expect a lower cost for your course, but with large class sizes, you just cannot expect to receive the same level of attention.

 * Training facilities should be of an industry standard and include workrooms, machinery and computer technology.

* The qualifications of the teachers who teach the course.

* Success of past students.

If you need individual advice on which course would be more suitable for your personal and professional goals, please call us on (02) 9449 1450 or send an email to so we can organise an appointment with our Principal Gaylene McCaw.