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TAFE NUMBERS in freefall

Think Local

The Baird government's cuts to TAFE education in NSW and on the Northern Beaches have seen thousands of teachers sacked over the past three years and savage cuts to courses and enrolments in what many have labelled a decimation of vital vocational training.

As the full impact of the cuts are laid bare, teachers, students and the state opposition are calling for a massive injection of funds to restore TAFE to its rightful place as an effective and sought-after tertiary training organisation.

Enrolments in the Northern Sydney region - which includes TAFE colleges at St Leonards, Northern Beaches,

Crows Nest and Bradfield Colleges have fallen from 49,379 in 2012 to just 29,409 in the 2016 year.

In the central Sydney area, a massive fall in registrations has also been recorded from 69,251 in 2012 to 28,627 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 Peninsula Living. "Between 2011 and 2015, the state government has overseen a drop of 108,000 people in government-funded training.

"In addition, youth unemployment in NSW sits at a staggering 11.8 per cent - more than double that of the normal unemployment rate," she states.

She says in this year's state budget, there was a shortfall of $314 million from the funds that were promised last year.

Simon - not his real name - says he feels angry, upset and fearful for the future of TAFE. As a longstanding TAFE lecturer at local Northern  Beaches 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 Peninsula Living.

"But over the past couple of years, the situation has become extremely difficult with disastrous consequences for students and teachers."

Simon says cuts to courses have been savage and in the first year of the Smart and Skilled policy (2015), 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 all this has turned away thousands of young people who would have received training in many Certificate III vocational qualifications including aged care, mechanics, hairdressing and other professions.

"We simply cannot deliver what we used to deliver to students. It's just been cut, cut, cut," he says with dismay. "Both state and federal governments have destroyed the principle of apprenticeships and on the job training and students are consequently being shortchanged." 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 separate institutes as is currently the case - and says there will be job losses because the marketplace is "very competitive".

In a statement to Peninsula Living, Mr Barilaro says, contrary to previous number, the organisation is now picking up more student enrolments for 2017.

He says the government has now introduced more policy changes designed to boost flagging numbers including fee-free scholarships and the capping of apprenticeship and traineeship fees. "The state government's vision for TAFE is an efficient and modern corporate structure," he notes.

NSW Teachers Federation spokesperson Rob Long tells Peninsula Living that there are still many questions about the cuts and possible mergers and campus sales.

He believes that the decision to fund private vocational colleges in the now infamous loans VET scandal which "ripped off students", had a huge impact on TAFE funding and viability. The scheme which has now been scrapped, took approximately $6 billion from the public purse in the past four years. "We are now hoping that this public money can be put back into TAFE," he comments. "Our colleges in the Northern Sydney region were always the strongest in the system but now teachers and students have lost faith - it's a really difficult period."

But Simon concludes that unfortunately "the damage to the TAFE system has been done" adding, "As teachers we wake up each morning not knowing if we will have a job at the end of the day."


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