The TAFE sector in Australia is struggling under the combined weight of severe state government cuts and Federal Government reforms. The response to budget cuts has seen campaigns to highlight the importance of TAFE develop in each state and territory.

Three states – Victoria, NSW and Queensland – are feeling the impact of savage state government budget cuts to TAFE budgets, with the combined effect of a shift to full competition for funding combining with the state government budget cuts in Victoria to place TAFE in that state on the brink of disaster.

In Victoria on 13 September 2012, the media was leaked a copy of Cabinet in Confidence documents which outlined further extensive cuts to the Victorian TAFE system, include further job cuts, assets sales and campus closures, course cuts and rationalisations, fee increases of up to 700% in some courses, the establishment in a number of TAFE institutes of separate entities (private arms) to deliver trades training, partnerships and amalgamations with other TAFE institutes and universities, the deployment of administrative staff to deliver training, and a reversion to the modern award and other significant attacks on wages and conditions.

The Victorian TAFE system has had $270m cut from its budget, with TAFE directors estimating more than 2000 job losses, and TAFEs already announcing hundreds of course cuts and campus closures and amalgamations.

The New South Wales government has announced a $1.7b cut to education NSW, which for TAFE included an estimated $80m cut. This follows the $54m reduction to the state training budget in June. There will be a loss of 800 jobs in TAFE, course delivery will be rationalised within Institutes and some courses will be cut altogether if other providers can be found to deliver them “more effectively” or are seen as “more appropriate providers”. There will be a reduction of procurement spending.  TAFE teachers are subject to the labour expense cap, low-demand courses are to be “rationalised”, and the 4000 or so fine arts students made to pay full commercial rates. Fees will be increased by 9.5%. This will result in charges of $506 for a CI & II; $793 for CIII; $1078 CIV as of Jan 1 2013. Those is receipt of Centrelink benefits etc, will now pay $100 per course. The system is still being scaled back, made less diverse and creative.

Fine Arts courses in “non job growth” areas will be charged at commercial rate. This takes effect from Jan 1 2013, which will have a major impact on students half way through a course as the jump in cost to them could be astronomical (up to 300% increase according to some in fine arts sections).

Some central support functions will be devolved to Institutes – as a cost cutting measure, and course delivery will be rationalised within Institutes with some courses cut altogether if other providers can deliver them more effectively or are seen as more appropriate providers.

The recently released Infrastructure NSW State Infrastructure Strategy says:

“TAFE demand is not expected to grow as vocational learning is increasingly provided by the private market”

and

“Increased contestability of funding for vocational training and flat student numbers over the past eight years suggests that TAFE enrolment numbers will be lower than population growth… Future TAFE reforms may significantly alter asset requirements”

The Queensland state budget cut $79M budget from TAFE with an additional cut of about $50M to capital works. The Queensland government has released the Interim Report of the Queensland Skills and Training Taskforce. This report recommends a “rationalised” structure of TAFE institutes under a TAFE Queensland parent entity, which would result in a reduction of the existing 82 TAFE campuses down to 44 – a cut of 38 campuses.

Central Queensland will form a seventh region, following the merger of the Central Queensland Institute and CQ University.

The Taskforce also proposed a significant attack on TAFE teachers’ working conditions, including an increase in hours and contact time, an attack on non-attendance time, the implementation of “industry competitive overtime arrangements”, greater management discretion in engaging casual staff and an increase in class size.

South Australia is the second state to move to a fully contestable funding regime in their VET system following the introduction of Skills for All on July 1. All VET funding in SA is now open to competition from TAFE and private RTOs. Skills for All is a modified form of the competitive model which was implemented in Victoria. In the lead up to the implementation of Skills for All, the SA government imposed budget cuts on its TAFE institutes in an attempt to clear the decks before Skills for All commenced. As a result, a significant number of teachers have been made redundant. The SA government has already registered more than 200 private providers as “Skills for All” providers. The policy was greeted with a massive advertising blitz by private providers seeking students.

The TAFE budget cuts around the country are savage, and they will have a long term impact on individuals, communities and businesses. The immediate impact on teachers is devastating. Permanently employed TAFE workers are currently being made redundant. Many more who have never had a secure job in TAFE – those employed casually or on contract – are the “hidden” face of what is currently occurring in TAFE.

But TAFE teachers, students, academics, communities, unions and industry organisations are fighting back against budget cuts, and campaigning to defend TAFE. We have established this Invest in Quality, Invest in TAFE blog to encourage comment and discussion about TAFE and the role it plays across the Australian community. We welcome contributions from across Australia.

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