summer reading

Over the summer holidays, we are revisiting some of our favourite articles published in The Australian TAFE Teacher magazine in 2012.  

The Victorian TAFE Association values the opportunity to present its views on the impact of funding cuts to TAFEs in Eastern Victoria.  The Association is the peak body for all 14 TAFE Institutes and four Dual Sector Universities across Victoria.

The Government Budget cuts to TAFE across Victoria equate to around $300 million per annum made up of two components:

  • $130 million reduced funding for training delivered
  • $170 million removal of “Full Service Provider” funding for TAFEs community service and statutory obligations.

Looking at the $130 million reduced funding for training delivered, the government hopes that a substantial amount of that $130 million can be recovered in increased student fees.  TAFEs do not share the view that the community, employers or students can bear the sort of fee increases necessary for many courses.  As well as many TAFE course fees increasing substantially, a wide variety of courses will no longer be offered in many TAFEs across Victoria, for example: business administration, hospitality, retail, event management, sport and recreation.  The reduction of the government support funding to $1.50 per student hour for these programs would make the student fee contribution exorbitant at Certificate 1 to Certificate IV program level and impossible for students to fund.

At the Diploma level there is access to a Loan Scheme.  The fees for Diplomas will still have to rise between $5,000 to $8,000 per annum and students will consequently weigh up the options: pay the fees or forgo vocational/applied education and training altogether and not upskill or retrain, or access a university place instead.  For regional Victorians the latter is no easy option and will often mean relocation or distance education.

The $170 million for FSP funding removal is absolutely immoral.  This money equates to about $2.15 for each hour of student training, which has previously funded TAFE’s Community Service Obligations and Full Service Provider facilities, including libraries, cafeterias, counselling service officers, disability services officers and part-funded the statutory obligations of TAFE to comply with the Government’s public sector employment and wages policies.

Many if not all of these obligations remain but the Government is removing the funding in total from January 1, 2013.  In effect the Government is defunding what is has required in retrospective obligations on TAFEs.  The obligations will continue, the funding to support those obligations will not, which is why the cuts about to be experienced are so hard hitting.

The rationale for the cut is based on inaccuracies.  The Treasurer Kim Wells has stated that the:

‘TAFE system was clearly unsustainable’. (Hansard 7 June)

The leader of the National Party Peter Ryan stated on Jon Faine’s 774 radio program on June 8:

‘On the issue of TAFE, it is unsustainable; we were told by Labor in 2008 that by 2011 the growth would have been from $800 million to $900 million, it’s gone to $1.3 billion, you just can’t have that continue.’

However, the facts demonstrate that TAFE has not grown unsustainably.  We accept that the Government has experienced a blow-out in training spending, which we predicted; a prediction shared with the then Labor Government in 2008.  We also told Minister Hall throughout 2011 that the growth in training spending was unsustainable, as all the quarterly figures indicated a major cost blow out.  However, it was not caused by TAFE.

The cause was a huge expansion in the number of private RTOs from 200 to 411 providers delivering training.  Provision of training exploded in many areas, particularly focussed in metropolitan Melbourne and in courses such as Business, Fitness, Sport and Recreation.  If we take an average across Victoria the growth in training by student enrolments 2008 to 2011 was 308% in private RTOs and in the last year alone March 2011 to March 2012 there was a 97% growth.  TAFE’s growth in the same period was 4% and 5% respectively.

From 2008 to March 2012 private RTOs market share of training delivered rose from 14% to 46%.  In the same time public TAFEs was down from near 70% to 45%.  Thus there was a huge blowout in training provision, some in skill shortage areas, some excessive and arguably unnecessary and some certainly and proven to be very poor quality and involving disreputable and fraudulent activity by some private RTOs.

Gippsland TAFE and its students and the local employers and community are being punished by a Government and bureaucracy that did not heed warnings and take measured pre-emptive action, as they were constantly advised and pressed to do, to avoid the obviously evolving blowout in costs.

All the figures I am quoting are from the Minister’s own department’s quarterly statistical collections.  They are their figures – not ours – figures that they have made openly available on their website over the past 18 months.  (Latest figures are from ‘Victorian Training Market Quarterly Report Q1 2012).

The Gippsland trend is completely at odds with the state-wide figures.  As mentioned, the explosion was in metropolitan areas where training by private RTOs increased between 2008 and 2011.  Relevant figures include increases of 447% in the Southern Metropolitan region and 364% in the Western Metropolitan region.  In the last 12 months Southern Metropolitan has seen growth of 109% and Western Metropolitan region $124%.

TAFE in comparison in these Metropolitan areas actually had reductions in enrolments.

An examination of the figures as they relate to Gippsland reveal that from 2008 to 2011 private RTOs’ student enrolments in the region declined by 5% from 2008 to 2011.  In the last 12 months private RTOs’ student enrolments grew by 46% but off quite low numbers of 1,051 to 1,533.

There is no evidence of unsustainable growth in Gippsland as a whole by all education and training providers.  It in fact declined in 2008 to 2011 by 23% and the grew marginally in the last 12 months by 7%.  people in Gippsland are now limited to enroling in no more than two government-supported programs in a calendar year.  Pathway programs from diploma to higher education have now become unviable.  Contrary to stated government policy objectives many programs that relate to Gippsland’s regional skill shortage requirements will no longer be offered.

The Government has got it very wrong.  It needs to immediately reinstate the $170 million TAFE Full Service Provider funding and to review the exceedingly low funding rate to courses such as Business and Hospitality to ensure they are still able to be offered.

The Government must review the needs of regional Victorians, as well as ensuring that a diverse range of programs and pathway programs to higher education are able to be offered in regional Victoria without astronomical fee increases to students.

The Government is aware that these has not been unsustainable growth in training in Gippsland and should be made to answer why they are ruthlessly slashing funding to training in the region.

-David Williams is the Executive Director of the Victoria TAFE Association.  This piece is an edited version of a speech given to Latrobe City Council on June 26, 2012.