LINDA SIMON. NSW election candidates Stand Up for TAFE

NSW goes to the polls on 23 March and the outcome is not clear at this time. There are many programs being highlighted and funding promised by the major parties, with TAFE an area of concern. The TAFE Community Alliance asked candidates to ‘Stand Up for TAFE’ and were overwhelmed with the strength of the responses from many candidates and not surprised at the lack of interest from others.

TAFE NSW is in crisis. The NSW Government’s own budgetary figures have shown the cuts to TAFE funding and the drop in enrolments. At least $130 million has been cut from the TAFE NSW budget since 2014 with the 2018/19 budget figures indicating a further $8.8 million cut. At the same time September 2018 Budget Estimates revealed a drop of at least 13% in enrolments. Along with a poorly designed major restructure of the organisation and a student administration system that still does not work effectively, these cuts have led to a TAFE system in crisis. Morale of teaching staff is at an all-time low, and the organisation continues to struggle with increased new management positions filled by people with no TAFE knowledge or understanding.

Given all of these problems, NSW citizens might have hoped that the Government would use the upcoming elections on 23 March to target some of these problems. Unfortunately the Government continues to announce its fee-free places for apprentices and trainees, many of whom are already paid for by their employers. Nine new campuses have been announced, eight in the regions, but it appears that there are no actual plans or sites chosen in many of these areas. More local TAFE campuses to work with local industries and communities are a long way off.

The TAFE Community Alliance asked all candidates running for both houses of Parliament three questions. We had identified these as being issues that should be of concern to the community – funding, the competitive training market and access to a local TAFE college. The three questions were:

1. Do you support increased government funding to ensure a sustainable publicly funded TAFE NSW?

2. Will you work to oppose the continuation of the competitive training market in vocational education, and ensure TAFE NSW is supported as the public training provider in this state?

3. Do you support local TAFE colleges for local industries and communities, ensuring a wide range of hands on training facilities across this state?

Responses are still arriving, with already at least half of candidates answering yes to the questions, either personally or through their Party’s response. Labor, the Greens, the Animal Justice Party, the Small Business Party, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party, and the Socialist Alliance Party, have all given a resounding yes to the three questions on behalf of all their candidates. There is a clear understanding of the effect of the budget cuts and loss of teaching expertise in the community. Candidates want a well-funded TAFE system in NSW with local accessible courses. They too have seen the damage caused by the creation of a government funded training market.

As well as the passion behind many of the responses, the Alliance has been interested to see the number of responses indicating a first hand or close family connection with TAFE, as a student, a teacher or in other working capacities. Candidates wanted the Alliance to know they had been or still were part of TAFE, they had seen the impact of underfunding and the poorly designed competitive training market, and they wanted changes.

Some of the responses included Party responses such as this from a Labor candidate:

TAFE needs to be restored. NSW Labor will revitalise the TAFE system after years of neglect from the Liberals and Nationals and ensure that TAFE is properly funded and accessible to all. NSW Labor will guarantee that 70% of all funding goes to TAFE NSW. We will invest $64.5 million and create 600,000 free TAFE places over 10 years.

The Greens also had this to say:

The government must commit to increased TAFE funding and rebuilding our public education system. The Greens will commit an increase of $50 million every year to TAFE. The subsidisation of the private training market can’t continue, The Greens will ensure all money used for vocational education will go to TAFE. It’s important to ensure that local industry is able to survive, especially by enabling local training and providing high-quality jobs to students and apprentices.

The importance of these responses as well as additional funding for TAFE as the public provider of vocational education and training, is the recognition of the need for sustainable funding. Fee-free courses that are perhaps one-off and are costly to administer may not be the best way of rebuilding and re-energising TAFE NSW.

The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, recently said: “TAFE campuses are the beating hearts of our regional communities and provide access to the education and training people need to get a job and get ahead.” However the TAFE Community Alliance’s recent discussions with candidates standing for regional seats has indicated a continuing drop in TAFE enrolments and a lack of skilled tradespersons in the regions, problems the Government should have been addressing some time ago.

Two other comments indicate the type of responses from the election candidates.

As one candidate put it: “I too have been distressed and angered at the undermining of TAFE through harsh budget cuts and the seeming support provided to private industry groups that offer less ethical and efficacious training;”

“It is an absolute disgrace what governments, state and federal, have done to Australia’s TAFE system and the way in which they have encouraged and supported private companies to enter and profiteer in a field of vocational and further education of such vital importance to this nation’s future,” said another candidate.

The NSW elections won’t be the end of the story. With this level of response, the TAFE Community Alliance will take the issues up with candidates standing for the Federal elections, and hope that those who care about the future of TAFE will also be those governing the country after these elections.

Linda Simon has been a teacher in schools, TAFE and now at university. She currently teaches subjects relating to adult education at Charles Sturt University. She was Secretary of the TAFE Teachers Association for over fifteen years, and Federal TAFE President of the Australian Education Union for six years. Currently she is National Convenor for Women in Adult and Vocational Education (WAVE) and an organiser of the TAFE Community Alliance. She has served on the Boards of NCVER and BVET in NSW, and is an educationalist and researcher committed to equity and public education

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