About 200 past and present students, teachers, local residents and local traders rallied to save Swinburne University of Technology’s Prahran TAFE campus on August 5. The event was organised by the National Tertiary Education Union and former staff and students.
Former Swinburne executive director of educational development Judy Bissland has worked at the campus for 30 years.
“I am still involved with campus through working with disengaged youth,” she told the crowd. “Funding cuts to TAFE and the vocational sector [are] disastrous. We need to take action to stop cuts or modify cuts.”
Bissland said Swinburne plans to close 12 courses, including automotive, recreation, hospitality and wine.
“Swinburne got university status because it agreed to provide education in the outer east,” she said.
Swinburne has five campuses – Hawthorn, Wantirna, Croydon, Prahran and Lilydale.
On July 6, Swinburne University Vice-Chancellor Linda Kristjanson said that the Prahran and Lilydale TAFE campuses would be closed and sold.
The university is one of four dual sector universities in Victoria that offers university and TAFE courses.
The university said there will be 240 staff redundancies and every staff member on a contract has been told their contract is ending. Bissland said staff are scared to speak out.
Bissland said that Prahran campus has a leading children services program. “It plays a major role in childcare training,” she said. “It provides English as a second language and VCAL [Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning] programs. It has the best art and design program and some programs not available anywhere else. It has an amazing arts program.
“The special courses for hard to reach students will vanish if Prahran closes.”
Swinburne University said the National Institute of Circus Arts will become a private education provider.
Bissland said the plan to transfer remaining programs and students to Wantirna campus was “ridiculous”.
“Wantirna doesn’t have the space to accommodate all of this. There’s no public transport to Wantirna so more programs and students will be lost from TAFE. The arts won’t be able to transfer because of the lack of specialist facilities.”
A theatre arts lecturer said the theatre arts program at Prahran brought students into the heart of the industry. He said the “first course here was for Indigenous students in performance and acting. Kids who come here want a hands-on course, not an academic course at university.”
Prahran's state Liberal MP Clem Newton-Brown pledged support to save Prahran campus. But when asked to sign a written pledge to oppose the TAFE cuts, he refused.
Five action groups were formed at the end of the rally to save Prahran campus.