Victoria TAFE fights for survival

As part of savage budget cuts, the Victorian Coalition government has slashed $300 million over four years of funding for the provider of public technical and further education, the state’s 18 TAFE institutes that teach about 400,000 students a year.

Funding per student in 80% of courses has been cut from about $8 per training hour to as low as $1.50 - to a range meant to reflect labour market priorities.

Trades apprenticeships, aged care and child care received some small increases.

But the government cut the extra funding TAFEs received compared with private providers. This funding previously recognised their community role and obligation to provide non-profitable courses.

Student fees have also risen for all courses. If students who already have a degree or diploma undertake further study at an equal or lower level, they must now pay full fees.

Multiple qualifications at all levels is an increasing need as bosses demand that all the skills development they profit from is paid for by the public or by workers.

Education unions have warned of the loss of thousands of jobs and the danger of imminent collapse of some providers, such as the highly regarded William Angliss Institute, a unique public specialty provider of training in hospitality, one of the hardest hit areas.

“These cuts are a mark of this government’s attacks on the vulnerable in society,” Mary Bluett, Victorian president of the Australian Education Union (AEU), which represents TAFE teachers, told Green Left Weekly.

“We’re receiving increasing support from other unions, from Trades Hall and community organisations for the campaign we’ve launched. The first step is a rally next Thursday, May 10, at Treasury Gardens.”

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is also involved, representing non-teaching staff at TAFEs as well as all staff in higher education, including the higher education divisions of Victoria’s five dual sector universities.

These universities have played an important role in raising access to all levels of tertiary education through pathway programs. Jeremy Smith, NTEU branch president at Ballarat University and Socialist Alliance member, told GLW the hits to the TAFE divisions of these universities will undermine this role.

“This budget sends the worst messages about the kind of society the Liberals envisage: $1 billion extra for prisons and devastating cuts to public vocational education.”

“The loss of these precious community institutions would be terrible for regional communities.”

Regional funding has also been slashed from 22% to 5% loading. Bluett said the AEU will organise a tour to build support for the anti-cuts campaign.

Smith also noted that the latest cuts were a direct continuation of the former Brumby Labor government’s TAFE marketisation policies.

Public funding was made available to private providers from 2009, leading to an explosion of often dubious quality providers, the diversion of more public funds to the private sector and pressures on TAFEs to compete with providers with poorly paid staff and none of the community obligations of TAFE.

The Labor government also introduced fees for TAFE in 2005.

Margarita Windisch, AEU activist at the TAFE division of Victoria University and Socialist Alliance member, told GLW: “The rally on May 10 is a good start and a big turn out will show that the community is outraged.”

However, she said education unions should recognise that “one rally is not enough. This protest needs to be followed up with strikes, pickets, petitions, public meetings — essentially a mass campaign that involves students, staff and the broader community.

“Now more than ever is the time to show leadership and courage.”

[For more information visit the website. A “Fight the TAFE cuts” rally will take place on May 10 at 12.30pm at the Premier's office, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne.]

Comments

Jamie Doughney, socialist economist, former Victorian president of the NTEU, and Socialist Alliance member, wanted to comment by email for this article but I neglected to tell him the deadline. Here's his responses to my questions to him - Nick Fredman:

You’ve written about how the demand-driven model of higher education is putting the squeeze on TAFE provision in dual sector universities. How will the new TAFE cuts further affect these institutions?

Except for those areas spared, the cuts actually mean that vocational education provision by dual-sector universities is uneconomic. The dual-sectors offer services to students and staff that the backyard private operators do not. The new rates do not cover these overheads. In fact the cuts in some areas are so severe that front-line teaching is unaffordable, unless the cost shifts dramatically to students in an almost full-fee-paying way. Earlier I said that TAFE (including the dual-sector vocational education divisions) was ‘buggered’ because of the coincidence of contestability or full marketisation in Victoria in both vocational and higher education. Now I think it is completely … (you can insert a word of your choice that is worse than buggered).

What should education unions and supporters of quality public education be calling on the dual sector universities to do?

First up we must be totally frank. These cuts threaten TAFE institutes and all but destroy the traditional dual-sector model. The dual –sector universities have to consider calling the Government on its actions. That is, they have to be prepared to say that the dual-sector model is dead, at least as we knew it, and be prepared to act accordingly. On the Government’s head be it. Now that also means looking after those students who lose out dramatically, working out new ways to save them from the tender mercies of the backyard private operators. You know, when you use the word ‘operator’, you usually mean dodgy. That’s the case here, too. The same goes for the TAFE staff whose jobs and working conditions will be slaughtered by privatization. Now, let me say clearly that this is not just a Victorian or vocational education problem. Higher education marketisation (contestability) nationally was preceded in Victoria by TAFE contestability, both by Labor Governments. The Coalition in Victoria is completing the process here, in their usual brutal fashion. What Labor has done nationally is to prepare the ground for a future Abbott-led Coalition to slash into higher education in similar fashion to their state colleagues. For unions, universities and university groups this is a massive wake-up call. Now is the time to unite … and, dare I say it, fight.