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“Assault” on TAFE hits hard

Thursday, 19th May, 2016

NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley during a visit to the city this week. NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley during a visit to the city this week.

By Andrew Robertson

Places like Broken Hill are being hardest hit by an “orchestrated assault” on TAFE NSW by the State Government which needs to be reversed, according to Opposition Leader Luke Foley.

The Labor leader said a combination of staff cuts and fee increases had led to a “massive decline” in student enrolments across the state, which in turn had seen many courses being cut.

Broken Hill had been caught up in this “vicious cycle”, created by the government’s Smart and Skilled reforms, said Mr Foley, who met with local TAFE teachers and students during a visit to the city this week. 

The government has said the reforms, which have seen TAFE funding redirected to private and community colleges, are designed to improve vocational education by making it more efficient and accessible.

But Mr Foley said it was having the opposite effect, particularly in non-metropolitan centres where TAFE was often still the only viable option for people looking to study.

“Private providers are understandably looking to make a quid so they go for the low-hanging fruit. They’ll set up in Sydney; they won’t set up where costs are higher in remote communities,” he said. 

“They’re not servicing indigenous students, they’re not serving people with disabilities.

“On all those indicators, enrolments of indigenous people, enrolments of people with disabilities, the decline’s dramatic, and that’s a consequence of deliberate government policy.”

Last month a report into the state’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) market found TAFE NSW lags behind its competitors on convenience, cost and its ability to attract new students.

The Boston Consulting Group’s report said high teaching salaries and low teaching hours contribute to TAFE NSW’s high unit costs, which were found to be 60 per cent higher than other TAFEs around the country.

It said smaller TAFE Institutes, including the Western Institute, which takes in Broken Hill, were too “sub-scale” to successfully compete in the market.

NSW Minister for Skills John Barilaro said the report showed the system was failing to meet the demands of students, industry and employers.

But the Boston report was immediately discredited when it was revealed that it had compared TAFE Western with a private college that had collapsed and had its offices raided by Australian Federal Police a week before the NSW Government released the report.

Mr Foley said the funding cuts to TAFE were already having an effect locally; the last apprenticeship mechanics course was cut this year and a program that trained indigenous children for the police force was withdrawn last year.

“I get that over time, demand waxes and wanes for the different course offerings, but the sad truth is there’s about 80,000 fewer students enrolled in TAFE across NSW today than when this government came to office,” he said.

“There’s just been an orchestrated assault on TAFE for the last five years.

“TAFE’s been decimated state-wide because funding’s been given to many private competitors to TAFE and that’s contributing to the collapse of TAFE.”

He said the public training provider should be “our first priority” and that was why he had legislation before parliament to “rebuild” TAFE.

“My policy is that a minimum of 70 per cent of the government funding for Vocational Education and Training goes to TAFE.”

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