Victorian government sneaks through TAFE restructuring


By Maurice Sibelle

MELBOURNE — While most people in the community were preparing for the Christmas break, the Victorian minister for vocational education, Phil Honeywood, announced the greatest shake-up of Victoria's TAFE system in 20 years.

Three days before Christmas, Honeywood announced:

  • Barton, Peninsula and Casey TAFEs in Melbourne's south-eastern region would be amalgamated.

  • Swinburne University of Technology would swallow up Eastern TAFE.

  • Victoria University of Technology would be amalgamated with Western Institute of TAFE.

  • Melbourne Institute of Textiles would merge with RMIT.

  • "Centres of Education" would be created to centralise the delivery of courses at fewer sites.

The announcement was the result of a six month ministerial review of Melbourne's TAFE system, the Ramler report (named after the chairperson of the review committee).

While Honeywood did not implement all of the recommendations of the Ramler report its essential direction was maintained: the number of TAFE institutions will be reduced from 14 to nine; courses have been rationalised into fewer sites; the way has been cleared for future privatisation of TAFE; and possibly 1000 jobs will be lost.

It is widely believed that the government delayed its announcement until after the Mitcham by-election. The government suffered a crushing defeat in Mitcham with a swing against of 16%. The changes will adversely affect TAFE institutes in the eastern suburbs where the Mitcham electorate is located.

Throughout the review process, student organisations, community groups, teacher unions and even directors of TAFE institutes complained that the committee did not take into account their views.

"It seems the Ramler review had an agenda, and the consultation process was just for show", Paul Miller, secretary of the Western TAFE Student Union and member of the council of the Victorian TAFE Students and Apprentices Network, told Green Left Weekly.

"To make such a significant announcement three days before Christmas is a cynical exercise designed to limit the ability of students and staff to respond to the changes. The government is ramming through its decision without any public discussion. Student organisations have not had adequate time to digest the Ramler report."

"We are concerned that the government is creating large mega-TAFEs which are unresponsive to student needs", Miller explained.

"There is no evidence to show that larger institutions will be more efficient. The needs of apprentices and trainees have been ignored. Apprentices in the eastern suburbs will have to travel to the other side of town to receive their education. Moreover, by further amalgamating TAFE with universities, TAFE is undermined as the system which caters for the needs of the students that the university and high school system has failed."

The government claims there have been no funding cuts. However, there have previously been cuts which the government has forced TAFEs to absorb.

Moreover, there will be an increased demand on the TAFE system as a result of the federal government's common youth allowance, which will force more young people into TAFE courses. The government expects TAFE to provide more places without increased funding.

"This is purely a cost-cutting exercise without taking into account the quality of education in TAFE and the needs of students and the community", Miller told Green Left Weekly.

[Maurice Sibelle is coordinator of the Victorian TAFE Students and Apprentices Network.]