Vocational education has become one of the fastest growing markets in Australia. There are more than 5000 private providers; half receive government funding and many accrue enormous profits.
This huge rise in private providers has made it impossible for the regulatory system to adequately police them, so there is little guarantee of the quality of courses.
But federal and state governments have embraced private providers' “user-pays” ideology rather than commit to free, high-quality public education for all as a human right.
Government funding for TAFE across Australia has been cut by 10% over the past 10 years. This figure is higher in some states. Some TAFE courses now cost more than university courses — more than $10,000 in some states.
This makes TAFE unaffordable for many students.
Meanwhile, more and more public funding is being channeled into areas of industry with few job prospects instead of areas of skill shortages. Recently in Victoria, many students enrolled in expensive courses to become personal trainers. It was only after graduation, and accruing sizable student debts, that many graduates discovered there was already an oversupply of personal trainers in the sector.
The NSW Greens launched a bill on November 11 to save TAFE from budget cuts, rising fees, job losses and a training market that is privatising skills training.
NSW Greens MP and education spokesperson John Kaye said: "TAFE has been driven to the brink of collapse. Public provision of vocational education and training is already facing budget cuts of $800 million, soaring fees, cancelled courses and hundreds of TAFE educators sacked.
"In early 2015 the new ‘Smart and Skilled’ market will force TAFE to compete for students and funding with low-quality, low-cost private providers. Under a deal with the previous federal Labor government, NSW is about to implement a skills training market that will inevitably result in TAFE either disappearing or being forced to cut its standards to meet the private sector's lower costs.”
The most disadvantaged students, those with disabilities or specific needs, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, the long-term unemployed and women who have been out of the workforce will be the hardest hit by the cuts. They will be excluded from courses because of the big costs involved.
Many disadvantaged students rely on TAFE outreach and equity programs for support. These programs will become add-ons that are unlikely to survive the cuts because of their associated costs.
The Greens bill is designed to put a hold on TAFE budget cuts, job losses, fee rises and the “Smart and Skilled” market.
The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) has been building broad community support for the “Stop TAFE Cuts” campaign. The campaign, which aims to educate the community about the vital role TAFE plays, involves TAFE activists speaking at public forums, mass leafleting and a social media and advertising campaign.
On November 10, NSWTF members distributed thousands of “Stop The Cuts” leaflets at the Newtown Festival. Between November 11 and November 17, hundreds of TAFE activists letterboxed thousands of leaflets in local neighbourhoods as part of the “Do Your Block For TAFE” campaign. By building mass community support for TAFE it is hoped that the NSW government will be forced to stop the cuts.