NSW TAFE teachers will consider industrial action when they return to work on January 29, in an attempt to maintain a quality TAFE system. A campaign of rolling stoppages and longer-term action will be discussed.
Teachers are deeply concerned about cuts in state and federal government TAFE funding, commercialisation of courses and a 9% fee increase for students. This fee increase is far above the previous undertaking of increases in line with CPI.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly, Phil Bradley, an assistant general secretary of the NSW Teachers Federation, said that "it is disgraceful that both federal and NSW governments are abrogating their responsibility to properly fund the public TAFE system and are shifting costs onto students.
"Many thousands of students are not able to afford the outrageous TAFE fees and charges increases, especially for the soaring number of courses being fully commercialised", he said. "These costs are in addition to childcare, reference books, computer and course equipment, travel and other study related costs, never mind the cost of foregone employment income!"
Bradely noted that the state Labor government "is threatening to cut thousands of student places unless they increase TAFE fees. This could result in the closure of country colleges ...
"NSW government funding cuts to TAFE since 1997 are now worth about $500 million in real terms each year and are causing severe reductions in student to teacher contact time in courses, class size increases, [and] excessive casualisation of the teaching service."
When federal government funding cuts are added, about $600 million per annum has been cut from NSW TAFE funding. Bradley highlighted the Allen Consulting Group figures which found that for every $1 invested in NSW TAFE, there is a $6.40 return to the economy over the next 20 years. This is in a climate where Australia is facing a 200,000 shortfall of skilled employees over the next few years.
"Now we have a NSW government proposal to de-skill the TAFE teaching profession by an attempt to eliminate current university teacher education requirements", Bradley went on. TAFE teaching qualifications would be downgraded from a 700-hour degree or graduate diploma at a university to a Certificate IV in training and assessment delivered in only 90 hours through private and community colleges for about $2000.
"TAFE students are being charged more, while both the federal and NSW governments are trying to undermine the students' high quality TAFE education with massive funding cuts! This is grossly unfair, especially to disadvantaged students who are increasingly having their access to TAFE obstructed.
"This disgraceful trend towards the privatisation of TAFE must be reversed now in the public interest, and we'll be calling on our members, other unions and the public to support the federation to do this."