The issues addressed in the articles in this special issue indicate the many ways in which vocational forms of higher education (HiVE) are understood and interpreted. While most articles focus on Australia, the students and institutional providers differ considerably. What unifies the forms of provision considered here are claims that they provide alternative insights into opportunities and inequalities within higher education (HE) and society. They suggest that HiVE is distinctive from dominant forms of HE in universities, and may therefore contribute to addressing inequity. As this suggests, while HiVE is often positioned in relation to what it is not, a more positive reading highlights HiVE’s capacity to address social and economic inequalities, particularly through providing access to skilled work. Claims to distinctiveness, however, which focus primarily on access to skilled work may lead to a reductive understanding both of HiVE and the aspirations of those who choose HiVE courses.