August 19, 2018

Making TAFE

By John Pardy

This post is Part One of a Two Part series, and considers the institutional beginnings of TAFE and highlights how TAFE came about and concludes by focusing on TAFES distinctive role.

Part Two, Unmaking TAFE, will focus on the policy trajectory that created a national training framework, a ‘training market’ and then the introduction of VET FEE HELP and look at how these policies brought TAFE to near ruin. Part Two will be printed in the Spring Edition of TATT.

Technical and Further Education (TAFE) has been the key government owned provider of post-school technical and vocational education and training since the 1970s. It is at the policy and institutional level that the contemporary challenges faced by TAFE in its mission to provide technical vocational and further education becomes starkly apparent.

TAFE as an important Australian education institution has positively shaped and changed individual lives. TAFE has been instrumentally important for developing Australia’s workforce and in supporting communities to adjust with changing social and economic circumstances.

TAFE is a relatively young institution that began to garner serious consideration as a specific organisation engaged in the provision of wide ranging technical and vocational education. TAFE as a key aspect of education in Australia is made up of a network of organisations, institutions and campuses with multiple offerings that are dispersed geographically and spread across all parts of Australia. It was the Whitlam government of 1972-1975 that in the year 1973 breathed life into the acronym TAFE. The options and activities carried out in technical schools, technical colleges and the further education and those offered in adult and community settings were reoriented through the strategic formation of a new type of education institution, TAFE.

A significant aspect of the Australian Committee of Technical and Further Education (ACOTAFE) was liaison with and responsiveness to the educations needs of Australian States. This was the time of the creation of the Australian Schools Commission (ASC), that progressed needs based funding. It was also the era of the Australian Universities Commission (AUC) that initiated increasing access and widening participation in university education. National policy coordination with regard to all education was a significant policy achievement of the Whitlam government and has had lasting institutional effects.

Data gathering and the establishment of processes to build intelligence about the patterns of participation in technical education, further and adult education were the main policy drivers and basis for institutional goals in the creation of a distinctive TAFE sector. This resulted in state TAFE authorities making submissions about the objectives and patterns of participation in TAFE along with expenditure requirements. Very early on in the national coordination of TAFE policy orientations to include community input were highlighted as being just as vital as industry input.

In ACOTAFES landmark ‘Kangan report’, TAFE in Australia (1974), the following definition of TAFE was developed;

TAFE should be regarded as describing all organised and sustained programs designed to communicate vocationally oriented knowledge and to develop individual’s understanding and skills. It should include all programs of education with a vocational purpose other than those financially supported by other Commissions, whether the individual is using the program with employment as a primary aim or with the aim of gaining additional specialised knowledge or skills for personal enrichment. It includes what is usually known as adult education. (ACOTAFE, 1974, xxiii)

This definition was reactive in that it sought to define an educational purpose and activity for TAFE that was distinctive from those that were covered by the Australian Universities Commissions (AUC) and the Schools Commissions. ACOTAFE would recommend in its first report the establishment of the Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFEC). The establishment of the TAFEC conferred upon TAFE comparable legal status that was afforded to Universities and the Colleges of Advanced Education (CAE), through the AUC and that of schools through the Schools Commission.

By 1977 TAFE, during the Fraser government would come under the control of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The TEC was in existence until 1984. The TEC included three constitutive councils, one for Universities, another for Colleges of Advanced Education and the TAFE council.The TEC, through the TAFE council established the processes for submissions from the states and territories for the allocation of grants.With ACOTAFE having set the agenda from its first report in 1974, with the next fifteen years resulting in the rapid growth and expansion of the Australian TAFE systems.

The creation of TAFE meant that technical education would become exclusively identified with tertiary education. This is historically contrasted with a broader technical education that had existed in secondary technical schools where students were prepared directly for work, and higher technical education offered by Technical Colleges and Institutes of Technology.

The blending of skills development in the pattern of technical and vocational education, together the ideas of lifelong education laid the basis of who would constitute the students in TAFE. In addition to skills and trade training, adult education that sought to include those who had experienced exclusion from schooling and tertiary education, such as women, migrants, indigenous people, young people, and people with disabilities made TAFE an important education institution with regard to social cohesion and a skilled workforce.

TAFE, as an area of education is betwixt and between schools and universities. TAFE emerged from a dedicated policy agenda that sought to create a more national footing for technical education. TAFE today has been bedeviled by an impoverished policy imaginary that has over-emphasised the economics of education as a result of a misunderstanding and discounting of what TAFE involves and who it includes.

Securing the future of TAFE institutions is dependent upon a cohesive policy approach that is reflective of a well understood appreciation of the breadth, diversity and value of the education options made possible through TAFE.For TAFE to continue to offer education, locally, nationally and internationally, quality education experiences depend upon secure institutions.

From the late 1980s the number of universities in Australia doubled. Through the restructuring of Institutes of Technology, Colleges of Advanced Education and Teachers Colleges new universities were made through the Dawkins reform. In that same historical periods school participation to the end of secondary school consistently increased. These changes, including the growth of TAFE signaled a changing education landscape for Australia. This landscape was characterised by changing social expectations of schooling and education. Education became the norm so much so that families increasingly expected their children to complete school and attend university or get a qualification that will hold them in good stead in a changing labour market.

TAFE as a result of its solid institutional foundations from the 1970s was able to ‘hold its own’ along with increasing school retention and expanding university participation.Yet the certainties that emerged from the cohesive national policy progressed by the Kangan report had started to be disrupted. In spite of this, TAFE continues to provide a place based education responsive to community needs and changing industrial circumstances. It has always been involved the provision of pre-tertiary along with tertiary education offerings. What TAFE does differently from universities and schools is applied learning and practical education in ways that are distinctive and grounded in networks of local employers, and communities.

Global rankings somewhat influence the work of universities as do comparative national educational achievement scores do for schools. TAFE institutionally has continued to occupy that middle level organisational space of attending to local, community and industry and employment needs in ways that universities and school do not and cannot. TAFE today is surviving in a policy context that has become much more complicated and contested in contrast to 1970s Australia.

Part Two (Unmaking TAFE) will examine that complicated and contested space that has made the work of TAFE that much harder.

John Pardy is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University.