This article first appeared in the Melbourne Weekly

I’ve been at Box Hill Institute for 29 years. This sounds like a long time, but it hasn’t felt like a life sentence at all. Each year, the job has changed, and I’ve taught across many disciplines and Teaching Centres. I originally started as a Drama and History of Theatre teacher, in the old VOP (Vocational Orientation Program) and TOP (Tertiary Orientation Program).

Joining the (then) TAFE Teaching Service meant resigning my Secondary teaching registration, which was a big deal. It meant committing to TAFE, which was still quite new.

However, it was exciting, as TAFE was a promise of opportunity for people who might otherwise miss out on the benefits of education. We were also an alternative for students who didn’t fit in at school, or were returning to education. We were hands on, and not as “scary” as university.

Each year, my Department Manager, Isabel Gabriel, would ensure that in our course selections we offered at least two places in each of our Dance and Media program streams to someone who “needed us more than we needed them”. Some of those students became our biggest success stories; often not succeeding in secondary school, but going on to tertiary courses in teaching themselves, or successful careers in acting, dancing and film and television production.

It was great to collaborate with these talented students on theatrical productions, often in city venues, or to create performances here at the Institute. We were a hub of creativity and enthusiasm. I’d often see former students in TV shows, and/or spot their names in the credits; two former students went on to make feature films (Love and Other Catastrophes and Serenade).

Since then, programs have changed, and unfortunately the programs I mainly taught in have also gone. However, the Centre for Creative Industries of today, whilst different, still has remarkable and talented staff and students; music related courses, fashion, graphic design, interior decoration and design, broadcast television, dance teaching, theatrical production skills, jewellery manufacturing, professional writing, textile arts are all taught by us. Box Hill Institute has always been involved in and supportive of these areas; it’s become harder for that support to continue.

The difficulty is that we’re running these programs and offering these choices in increasingly difficult financial circumstances. TAFE in Victoria has always had funding problems, running leaner and meaner than a greyhound (and twice as hard ‐ performance by Victoria has continually been high in national rankings), but it’s going to be more difficult in the face of the latest round of cuts; these will particularly affect the types of students TAFE was originally set up to provide for.

In particular, the cut of the “Full Service Provider” funding will impact on important support services that students are able to access currently ‐ study support, counselling, library services, practical placements, etc. Funding for Enterprise Bargaining has also been withdrawn, making negotiations for the next Award an interesting proposition.

There is much community affection for TAFE; I think State Governments (past and present) have underestimated the concerns that would be aroused amongst community, local government and employer groups, who have taken up the campaign alongside the TAFE providers. Providing this momentum can be maintained, then we may see sense prevail; TAFE is, and always has been, too important to lose.

-Michael Zangmeister is a Senior Educator at the Centre for Creative Industries at the Box Hill Institute

We are interested in hearing about the experiences of TAFE teachers around Australia.  Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments, or if you have a lengthy response, click on the “Contribute” button at the top of the blog.  You, like Michael, could be published on the Invest in Quality, Invest in TAFE blog!

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