Vic gov't tries to crush TAFE stepping stone

Rally outside Premier Ted Baillieu's office, May 10. Photo: Takver/Flickr

Anger and concern is spreading as people become aware of the scale of the cuts to the TAFE sector. The Baillieu government said it would slash $300 million from the TAFE sector in Victoria.

At a public meeting titled “TAFE Cuts, Education and the Capitalist Crisis”, the president of the National Tertiary Education Union’s University of Ballarat branch, Jeremy Smith said 57 courses were being totally axed at Ballarat TAFE.

Ballarat TAFE is cutting most of its agricultural courses and its horticulture course. It is also closing all fitness, racing and most business and hospitality courses.

Prisons education is the only area likely to grow, according to the University of Ballarat’s vice chancellor David Battersby.

Smith told Green Left Weekly that axing business courses penalised working-class people who might have lost their jobs and planned to learn basic business skills to set up a small business with their redundancy money.

Chisholm TAFE community development teacher Alex Nissan told the public meeting the TAFE cuts come on top of cuts and retrenchments last November and then changes to rules in December and February.

She said attacks on Victoria's TAFE system began in 2008 with the Labor state government's so-called skills reforms, which caused big fee rises.

In her course, the first-year fees doubled from $1000 to $2000. The government axed concession cards, but “we campaigned and won back concession cards for people under 24”.

But “if you go back to do extra diplomas as you often need to [for particular jobs], the price goes up to the full fee of $12,000”.

“In 14 years as a TAFE teacher, I’ve seen people walk out of poverty and skill up at TAFE. TAFEs help people who don’t fit the system. TAFEs are a stepping stone to work and to university, and the government has crushed that stepping stone."

Anne Duggan, head trainer for the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, said blue collar unions were concerned about the TAFE cuts.

She said that CFMEU registered as a training organisation in 1993 because, at the time, only tradespeople working in high-risk areas could train through TAFE.

In 1995, training in high-risk areas was privatised. Duggan said this was “scary”.

“Under the TAFE system workers would do a block of four to six weeks at TAFE and 800 hours on the job, but private providers do scaffolders tickets in one to two days.

“The unlicensed trades are the most vulnerable to privatisation. In some of these trades, less than 50% are fully qualified.”

“TAFEs provided people with the full skill set. The private providers are de-skilling tradespeople.”

Former Labor premier John Brumby’s skills reforms in 2008 meant public TAFEs and private providers had to compete for vocational training funding. The state government began funding private providers, but private providers don’t have to provide infrastructure such as buildings or libraries, or student services such as counsellors.

The number of private providers leapt from fewer than 100 to between 450 and 1300, with many reports of dodgy providers. One person told GLW they had done a food-handling certificate without any contact with another person.

They simply registered to do the course on the internet, paid with a credit card, read the material on the internet site, completed the questionnaire based on that material, then received a certificate in the mail.

A cross-campus collective involving teachers and students has just been formed to campaign against the cuts. It is planning a protest rally on July 25.

A separate campaign group has been formed to save the Auslan diploma course at Kangan Batman TAFE.