Thousands of New South Wales TAFE students are still trying to enrol in courses, even after the start of the teaching year.
This bad situation has been compounded by ongoing retrenchments, for example, 800 clerical, facility and security officers recently lost their jobs.
Technological “fixes” were supposed to replace the sacked workers, but they have been spectacular and expensive failures. Prospective students have been trying to negotiate an unreliable website and/or get through to an overwhelmed state-wide call centre. Some students have waited 90 minutes or more on the phone.
Teachers fear that this will lead to the loss of students and jeopardise the long-term future of TAFE as a public vocational education provider.
Each year, over the last 10 years, there have been about 100,000 fewer enrolments than the previous year. As most students study part-time, this number of enrolments represents the equivalent of 50,000 full-time students each year.
This has had a detrimental impact on school leavers seeking a trade, women seeking to re-enter the workforce, retrenched workers wanting to reskill, and others who simply want to enrol in a course.
Privatisation by stealth has also had an impact on enrolments.
Courses, such as equine studies at Richmond, have been cut as campuses are sold off: Scone TAFE for example was sold to Racing NSW last year despite community opposition. Consultants and contractors are being hired to replace long-term and knowledgeable TAFE staff who have been retrenched.
TAFE management is a revolving door, with several new managing directors coming through in as many years.
Labor has made TAFE an election priority and is promising “free” courses.
While this is welcome, Labor is silent on whether it will dismantle the “Smart and Skilled” funding model, introduced by Julia Gillard. This scheme shifted TAFE funding to private providers, significantly increased fees and complicated the enrolment process.
[Niko Leka is running for the Socialist Alliance in the NSW Senate. He is a retired nurse.]