O’Farrell government attacks TAFE

NSW education minister Adrian Piccol has announced a process of “community consultation on the reform of TAFE and the vocational education and training sector in NSW”.

The NSW Liberal government plans to repeat its Victorian counterpart’s attacks on public education and further privatise vocational education. The government plans to encourage private colleges and universities to undercut TAFE providers. It will offer a publicly-funded student voucher system to achieve this.

Private providers will be financed by public funding for every student they attract through the proposed voucher system. Students on low incomes would also be forced to repay HECS-style student loans once they begin working. These attacks were announced in a discussion paper released on September 28.

Charging students for the right to be educated is likely to discourage people on low incomes from post-school education for fear of accruing further debt. Peter de Graaff, the assistant general-secretary of post-school education with the NSW Teachers Federation, told the September 29 Sydney Morning Herald: “Students are already entitled to go to TAFE now at a modest cost. What we’ve seen in Victoria is that a student entitlement means driving fees up and it means forcing people into debt.”

Greens MP John Kaye condemned the student loans proposal.

“It will put an even greater financial burden on the shoulders of students. Adrian Piccoli is clearly playing with the same disastrous privatisation agenda that is devastating TAFE and pushing up student fees and charges in Victoria. In the brave new world of training markets, students will pay more and TAFE will be forced into a race to the bottom in quality,” he told the SMH.

NSW has the largest vocational education and training system in Australia with more than 2000 training organisations and an estimated 830,000 students. TAFE NSW currently educates more than 550,000 TAFE students across 10 institutes and more than 130 campuses.

Under government’s plans, a public subsidy for a student is cashed in by whichever education provider the student chooses, forcing TAFEs to compete on every course they offer and close if they fail to attract enough students.

Private colleges can undercut TAFEs by providing an inferior education — forcing teachers onto lower rates of pay with lower working conditions, employing teachers with less qualifications and increasing class sizes.

Ultimately, teachers, student and the community lose out because teachers will be forced to do more work for less pay, students will accrue huge debts and the community will be serviced by graduates with inferior levels of education.

Last year, NSW TAFE and adult migrant education services (AMES) was stripped of $50 million worth of federal funding. The federal government's competitive tendering policy took funding from TAFE Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program (LLNP) courses. In NSW, many TAFEs lost their tenders to private providers.

Local audits of the LLNP at TAFE colleges showed that delivery was of high quality with successful outcomes. TAFE teachers had university teacher education qualifications and experience working with adult learners. Teachers in private colleges are paid well below the TAFE award and endure inferior working conditions.

As a result, students were pushed into lower quality education. Hundreds of TAFE and AMES-equivalent full-time teaching positions were lost.

Many students yet to finish TAFE or AMES courses were forced to attend private institutions. Many private providers lack infrastructure and university qualified teachers, as well as the counselling services offered by TAFE and AMES.