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Cuts will ‘privatise TAFE and close campuses’ in Victoria

Supporters of TAFE courses demonstrate at the Gordon campus in Geelong. AAP/Julian Smith

Education experts and senior academics have called on the Victorian Government to abandon budget cuts that they say will effectively privatise TAFE in Victoria and force several campuses to shut.

In an open letter, 14 vocational education and training researchers have expressed concern at “radical funding changes” to the public and private VET sector in Victoria. Victorian TAFE Association executive director David Williams has said that as many as 600 jobs may be cut in regional Victoria while metropolitan TAFEs could lose up to 1500.

The cuts to TAFE institutions, announced in the May budget, will reduce public funding by 22% from the start of 2013. The government has slashed funding for up to 80% of courses. In some courses - from fields including business, hospitality, retail, customer contact, process manufacturing, events, fitness and sport - rates will be cut to less than $2 per student contact hour from the current levels of between $6.50 and $10 per hour.

One of the authors of the letter, David McLean, the TAFE Manager at RMIT University, said that “what’s not seen by the government is the amount of hard work that goes on in the sector to develop resources and to come up with training methods and recruit people and build some sort of consistency to the way programs are developed. It’s all of that that’s going to get lost. There’s a human connection to that, but what’s really lost is the intellectual capital.

"If you sit down and try to do a budget and things just don’t add up, then you know you’re going to have to make some pretty hard decisions. Programs have been shut down and more will go.”

Nearly every Victorian university is represented by the signatories to the letter, which warns that “the privatisation of TAFE in Victoria is imminent if the newly proposed policy, Refocusing Vocational Training in Victoria, is implemented … We are alarmed that publicly owned TAFE institutes that provide immeasurable benefit to the Victorian economy and its communities should be threatened by such wide ranging and ill-judged reforms.”

The letter goes on to say that there is widespread fear across the sector. “There can be little doubt that this policy will cause campus closures in urban and rural Victoria, force the reduction of learning support services across TAFE and degrade Victoria’s training capacity through the loss of teaching expertise. Ultimately, though, it is the people of Victoria who will pay the price through increased fees, reduced quality and decreased access to publicly funded education. We strongly urge the Victorian Government to stop this planned destruction of public vocational education and training, a mandate for which it was never granted.”

Colin Long, Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union’s Victorian Division, said he knew of at least two TAFE institutions that had put their staff on notice about the potential for heavy job losses.

The cuts would also make life harder for dual sector institutions, like Victoria University, which has announced a major restructure to cope with cuts to public funding and increased competition from private providers, Dr Long said.

Scott Prasser, Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute at Australian Catholic University, said that privatisation was not necessarily a bad thing for TAFE. “Shouldn’t TAFE be more reflective of market demands in both courses offered and quality? And who said present arrangements produced good results anyway? It is quality that is the issue in education.

"Cuts often have to be made in the public sector in this dramatic way and often they seem ‘political’ because market mechanisms are less focused.”

But Mr McLean said that there was already an “enormous amount of innovation in the TAFE sector, so we already are in that space, and we already are developing highly-skilled teaching practices with flexible delivery.”

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