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Why USI? VET and higher ed’s role in a larger student story

There’s nothing unique about the Unique Student Identifier – at least to Australia’s vocational education and training providers. Having managed and reported on students using the USI since January 2015, it’s now an integral part of the VET compliance milieu and embedded in technology that supports student management in the sector.


For higher ed the USI is all new. The Government mandated the use of the USI for new students beginning in 2021. Providers have been busily encouraging students to obtain their USI this year, with a requirement to have one for Commonwealth Supported Place funding, graduation from their degree in 2023, or to access the HECS-HELP schemes.


To be rolled out in stages from early 2021, by 2023 all higher education providers will need to ensure that all of their students have a USI, whether they are new enrolments or commenced their study prior to 2021. At the same time, the Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN) will be completely phased out.


The advantages of a USI


Higher education is the newest expansion of the USI’s reach in Australia. Adding to the data collected for students using the VET system, it promises to deliver a number of advantages for participants in the Australian education system in the long-term.


For students, it will provide an online, centralised record – called the USI Transcript - of all nationally recognised training. Securely housed and easily accessible, students will be able to refer to this record for different purposes, such as when applying for a job, seeking to transfer credit into new courses at other providers, or when they are about to enter a new course and need to show they meet the required pre-requisites.


For education providers, the use of a single identifier for the entire tertiary education journey - whether in VET, higher ed or both - will ensure information available on students will expand, potentially streamlining student management. With more and better-quality data available on students throughout their education journey, educators will be able to better service their aspirations and refine the student life-cycle.


For regulators, the USI will eventually provide a single source of truth for student interactions with the education system across Australia across different education channels. By housing and analysing USI data across cohorts of students, policymakers will be more informed about what the education journey really looks like and how they can be facilitated through measures like funding and student support measures.


An education number for life?


The USI will for some time remain only a patchy reflection of someone’s true learning journey. Though the USI will expand to encompass learning through higher ed, it will not capture the spectrum of qualifications that our existing workforce have already obtained prior to the USI’s introduction into both tertiary education markets. This makes it of more value to younger learners who are in the earliest stages of their careers.


Likewise, with more and more students or even mid-career learners going online to access just-in-time learning courses to skill up in their industry, often backed for employer-presentation purposes by a non-accredited digital credential, the USI is only likely to be a part of the education and training record that any individual is likely to gain as they traverse new skills and knowledge throughout their careers.


However, the value of the 10-didgit USI code will rise in time. As more students enter and complete tertiary education and training that is captured by the USI registry, educators of all types and policymakers will have more information available to them that can enable them to enhance education services for the learning generations of the future, while making student experiences increasingly personalised and relevant.