CRISIS in TAFE
The Baird government's cuts to TAFE education In NSW including on the North Shore have seen thousands of teachers sacked over the past three years and savage cuts to courses and enrolments in what many have labeled a decimation of vital vocational training.
As the full impact of the restructuring becomes apparent, teachers, students and the state opposition are calling for a massive injection of funds to restore TAFE to a sought-after tertiary training organisation.
Enrolments in the Northern Sydney region have fallen from 49,379 in 2012 to Just 29,409 In 2016.
"The number of students enrolled in government-funded VET courses in NSW has crashed to its lowest level in over a decade," shadow minister for skills Prue Car tells North Shore Living.
"Between 2011 and 2015, the state government has overseen a drop of 108,000 people in government-funded training," she continues. "In addition, youth unemployment in NSW sits at a staggering 11.8 per cent - more than double that of the normal unemployment rate."
She says in this year's state budget, there was a shortfall of $314 million from the funds that were promised last year.
NSW government skills minister and deputy premier John Barilaro has defended the TAFE restructure process, saying the organisation was top heavy with too much money being spent on administration. He intends on streamlining the organisation into one body, rather than keep them separate as is currently the case. Mr Barilaro says there will inevitably be job losses because the marketplace is "very competitive".
In a statement to North Shore Living, Mr Barilaro says, contrary to previous numbers, the organisation is now picking up more student enrolments for 2017. He says the government has now introduced more policy changes designed to boost numbers including fee-free scholarships.
"The state government's vision for TAFE is an efficient and modern corporate structure," he notes.
The NSW Teachers Federation spokesman Rob Long tells North Shore Living there are still many questions about the cuts and possible mergers and campus sales.
He insists the decision to fund private vocational colleges in the VET FEE-HELP loans scandal which "ripped off students", had a huge impact on TAFE funding. The scheme, which has recently been shut down by federal education minister Simon Birmingham, took about $6 billion from the public purse in the past four years.
"We are now hoping this public money can be put back into TAFE," comments Mr Long. "The TAFE share nationally has fallen to 24 per cent. NSW and our colleges in the Northern Sydney region were always the strongest in the system but now many teachers and students have lost faith as the cuts bite - it's a very difficult period."
Mr Long adds it's not clear where the students who have ceased to enroll in TAFE courses over the past couple of years have gone. They may have tried the private system or they may have just decided not to study. Ms Car tells North Shore Living that the public, teachers and students should brace themselves for more cuts and campus sell-offs and a reduction of face-to-face teaching as the next stage of the "destructive reforms" take place into 2017.
"Bringing all the TAFE institutes under the control of one centralised organisation also denies local campuses the flexibility to offer courses to suit the local population, business and industry."
TAFE teacher reveals: ‘Students have been shortchanged’
Simon - not his real name - says he feels angry, upset and fearful for the future of TAFE. As a long-standing lecturer at local colleges, he is "devastated" at what he describes as the "crumbling fate" of a once-proud and successful institution.
"I have watched the developing impact of budget cuts and ill-conceived administration and registration changes over a number of years through successful governments, both Liberal and Labor," he tells North Shore Living. "But over the past couple of years the situation has become extremely difficult with disastrous consequences for students and teachers."
The local lecturer says cuts to courses have been savage and in the first year of the Smart and Skilled policy, fees increased by thousands of dollars for students who were enrolling in a second degree or further education. Numbers plummeted in response before the government was finally made aware of the "disaster".
"The cuts have done untold damage and has turned away thousands of young people who would have received training in many Certificate III vocational qualifications including aged care, chef qualifications, mechanics, hairdressing and other professions. "We simply cannot deliver what we used to deliver to students. The fees and lack of options have scared off so many. It's just been cut, cut, cut," he says with dismay.
Simon says lecturers are worried students will be "down skilled" and employers may attribute this to teaching methods and not to the downgrading. "Both state and federal governments have destroyed the principle of apprenticeships and on-the-job training and students are consequently being shortchanged."
He adds that he and other TAFE staff feel upset about the billions of educational dollars being wasted on non-functioning private colleges through the now-defunct VET loans program.
"Unfortunately the damage to TAFE has been done," he says angrily. "These colleges have delivered no education to students and thousands of TAFE teachers have been sacked with years of technical expertise and experience lost. We wake up each morning not knowing if we will have a job at the end of the day."