On October 7 a group of students from Chisholm, Bendigo, Kangan Batman and Victoria University TAFE campuses demonstrated their opposition to proposed TAFE reforms at Parliament House. Their cries were for education for everyone, not just the rich.
Victorian Premier John Brumby's government plans to treble TAFE fees and introduce a Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS)-style payment system spread over a few years. Currently, TAFE students pay their course fees up front.
TAFE has a high proportion of students who pay concession fees. These students will suffer under the new high TAFE fees regime.
At Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE (BRIT) in central Victoria, more than 50% of students pay the concession rate. The changes will mean that students who may have paid just $55 — the concession rate — will have to fork out $2,500 for diploma and advanced diploma courses. A HECS-style, income-contingent loan, offered to soften the blow of these higher fees, isn't appealing to students.
Cathy Clark, a BRIT student currently studying Certificate IV in Professional Writing and Editing, told Green Left Weekly the possibility of continuing her studies beyond the certificate has been shattered. When asked whether she would undertake the diploma once she had completed the certificate, the 42-year-old said "No, I don't want to be paying HECS when I'm 75".
The government is planning to change TAFE's funding method so that they will compete for students with private Registered Training Organisations. For example, companies like ABC Learning Centres will compete with TAFEs for funding for childcare training programs.
Students from Chisholm Institute of TAFE to set up a website to provide information about the proposed changes. The website includes an online petition, which states: "the government is breaking an election promise it made at the 2006 election to: 'ensure TAFE entry costs are not a barrier to participation by students from disadvantaged groups'."
In the coming months TAFE students across Victoria will step up their campaign against the changes. The next demonstration will be on October 28 between 11am-3pm at Parliament House, followed by a statewide day of action on TAFE campuses November 17.