In late April 2012, the Victorian Coalition government, building on the skills reform initiative of its Labor predecessor, unleashed its own radical model of vocational education and training (VET) market reforms. Basically, these reforms opened up the public funding of VET to virtually all comers and removed any dedicated funding to sustain the public character of TAFE (the public VET provider network).
The Commonwealth Government has decided that Australia’s young people should be either “learning” or “earning”. Yet the institutions in which they are expected to learn have been under constant attack by state governments. As the Victorian coalition government heads into an election in November, it is timely to look back on their history of cuts to education and the impacts these are having on young people and their families.
Government ‘reforms’ to TAFE are destroying a key institution that contributes to Australia’s well-being, social cohesion and economic prosperity. The purpose of the changes is to create markets in vocational education and training and to transform TAFE into a commercial provider of services that competes on the same basis as private-for-profit providers.
I see, in TAFE, all around me, teachers who care, passionately, about what they are doing, are good at what they do, but who face losing their jobs anyway. I’ve seen them at Open Days and Careers Expos, talking earnestly with prospective students and parents, offering good study and career advice, which has satisfied those listening, often leading to a heartfelt “thank you so much!” from those listening. But those teachers might still lose their jobs.
The Federal Government and incoming Minister Brendan O’Connor need to decide what to do with Commonwealth VET Partnership funding for NSW and Victoria. Twelve months ago, then Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans took a stand against recalcitrant state governments to stop them cutting funding to TAFE institutes, and refused to pass on Partnership funding. What is at stake is more than $560M of Commonwealth funding to NSW over the next five years, and more than $430M to Victoria.