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Issue #1550      6 June 2012

Silent march protests TAFE cuts

The Australian Education Union (AEU) last week joined the Save Auslan campaign group in a silent march to protest against the Victorian Baillieu government’s state budget cuts, which led to the axing of Victoria’s only remaining Australian sign language course.

Kangan Institute, which runs the sign language diploma, will close the course by the end of the year and has ceased enrolling new students.

AEU Victorian branch president Mary Bluett said the cuts to Auslan formed part of the state government’s $300 million budget cuts to the public TAFE system.

“Given the shortage of skilled interpreters and the high demand for this qualification, it is completely absurd that the Baillieu government would axe Victoria’s only remaining sign language course.

“The Auslan course was crucial in providing Victorians with the skills needed to fluently converse with the deaf community. Without this training, many people will be left without the ability to converse with family, friends and community members.

“Every day, we hear more stories about TAFE course closures, job losses and the impacts on local industries. The deaf community joins these ranks as yet another victim of the state government’s gutting of the Victorian public TAFE sector,” Ms Bluett said.

About TAFE4All

Over 400,000 students access Victorian TAFEs each year. In 2009, the state government introduced reforms which saw TAFE fees triple for many courses and full fees charged for those who already have a degree or diploma – fees of up to $20,000.

At the same time, it threw open funding for vocational education and training to private for-profit providers. It led to an explosion in the number of registered training organisations.

But instead of providing the skills the Victorian economy needs, these firms have cherrypicked popular, cheap-to-run courses – churning out hundreds of personal trainers, real estate agents and hospitality workers.

Meanwhile TAFEs are left to provide the equipment-intensive, expensive courses such as engineering and building, because TAFE exists for the public good.

The result has been a $400 million blow out in Victoria’s VET budget last year. But instead of cracking down on the firms who filled their boots from these changes, the government cut $40m funding to the TAFE system – the standard bearer of quality – and is considering plans to cut $230m more.

Hundreds of TAFE teachers have lost their jobs. Most institutes are now operating at a deficit. Courses have closed and students have been priced out of further education and training, or sacrificed their one shot at a government-funded qualification because they didn’t have the information to make a career choice.

With the support of other unions, community groups and the TAFE community, the AEU is running a campaign to have the reforms revoked – and they need your support.

What the state government’s changes really mean:

Higher fees

Enrolment fees for diplomas and advanced diplomas have risen from $877 to $2,500 per year and fees for Certificate III and IV courses to $1,250 – and that’s for those lucky enough to get a subsidised place. Apprenticeship fees have risen by 40 percent.

Retraining out of reach

Students who already have a degree or diploma are no longer eligible for support to undertake a qualification at a lower or equal level from 2011. Instead they must pay the full cost of further training, which can be up to $20,000 per qualification. In a changing economy, young people today can expect to retrain up to five times during their working life; but now they can’t afford to.

Students in the dark

Complex eligibility criteria, competition and lax regulation have made it much harder for students to work out how much a course will cost and compare the quality of different options. Even some TAFE teachers don’t understand their own course’s fee structure.

Two major reports last year, by Essential Services Commission and the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission, told the government that its market couldn’t work unless students had full information about course costs and quality. So far the government has done nothing on this.

Courses closed

Three hundred TAFE teachers lost their jobs over the summer as institutes reviewed their operations in light of the cuts. Higher fees mean courses like RMIT’s professional writing diploma have closed through lack of numbers, while cuts have led to the closure of the engineering department at Bendigo TAFE’s Castlemaine campus. Low enrolments threaten many more courses.

Dodgy providers ripping students off

Some private providers are running diploma courses in days rather than the months it takes students to acquire these skills. Some are even luring them with cash incentives onto courses with few job prospects, not realising they are blowing their one chance at a government-funded place. When they realise they can’t get a job, they’ll have to pay full fees to gain another qualification.

Quality under threat

With funding cuts and competition closing a pincer on TAFE institutes, quality is at risk. Unlike many private trainers, TAFE courses are run by qualified teachers. In a survey of 500 teachers last year, three-quarters said quality had already suffered. 

TAFEs have a history of collaborating to raise educational outcomes and meet public need, but now they are being expected to operate like private businesses – a change in culture that has already led one institute to lose millions on an ill-advised business deal.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that the state government is undermining the system that every year gives hundreds of thousands of Victorians a ladder into work.  

Next article – Rallies against offshoring news expertise

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