What's behind Carr's plan to restructure



LISMORE — On September 17, teachers in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are scheduled to take strike action. Tough stands by state Labor governments against teachers' pay demands have provoked this nation-wide industrial action.

NSW Premier Bob Carr's Labor government has not only refused to meet the NSW Teachers Federation's pay claim, it has also cut staff frim the Department of Education and Training (DET) teacher support services and increased in fees on TAFE students.

Part of the Carr government's plans to restructure TAFE and the DET involve the merging of administrative and support services which the Teachers Federation argues will take 1000 jobs away from education, 700 of which are likely to be in the TAFE area.

Laurie Green, a councillor for the TAFE Teachers Association, spoke to Green Left Weekly about how the restructuring plan will affect Wollongbar, a NSW North Coast Institute of TAFE campus serving over 3700 students.

The regional School Education Office is located in nearby Lismore. The TAFE North Coast Institute office is located in Port Macquarie, which, while reasonably distant from Wollongbar, is central to the coastal strip served by the institute and is representative of the region it serves.

"The government plans to merge the two offices into one and to locate it in Tamworth, over 400km to the south-west — a move which shows complete disregard not only for the regional integrity of the North Coast Institute, but also for the existing staff who will have to either uproot their families or find new jobs in the local area", said Green.

The thrust of the Carr government's policy, Green added, is to emphasise the link between TAFE and schools and to make the courses TAFE provides more like school vocational education.

The problem with emphasising the link between school education and TAFE, which Green says is already significant, is that TAFE performs a huge variety of other educational services that risk being squeezed out.

While information about the precise changes involved in the restructure is hard to obtain, Green believes that the projected budget savings of $60-$70 million will be achieved in two ways — cutting the number of courses, and making staff redundant.

"A large number of jobs belonging to curriculum support staff may be lost from the school system, while 70 jobs in the educational services office of the TAFE system may be lost state wide. The effect of these cuts to support staff will be to add to the workload that will have to be carried by teachers themselves.

"The restructure will limit TAFE's capacity to meet the part of its charter that requires it to provide education and training for the disadvantaged. For example, TAFE provides basic pre-employment courses, as well as equity support to students including disability support, multicultural support and gender equity support."

Green said the services threatened by the current changes include outreach courses in which courses are delivered in isolated and rural communities, disability programs, trade training and welfare courses. He is concerned that TAFE's ability to provide "second chance" education will be diminished.

Green argued that the government is moving in the direction of user-pays in the TAFE system.

"In 2004, fee-free courses will be abolished. Eligible students will be entitled to one fee exemption per year; any further courses will attract the full fee. An annual administration charge ranging from $260 for short courses to $710 for a graduate diploma in 2003 will be replaced by fees for year long courses ranging from $300 to $1650 in 2004.

"In addition, the squeeze on funding has led to some courses imposing increasing materials charges."

Green explained that the starving of faculties financially is forcing them to generate their own funds and diverting faculty energies from teaching to economic concerns.

These changes will not only make these courses unaffordable to particular students, they may lead to courses not being offered at all since courses are offered subject to demand and small enrolment numbers can mean that courses can't be run at all.

From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.

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