June 23, 2015

The year that has passed

By Pat Forward

As we gear up to celebrate National TAFE Day for 2015, it is important to remind ourselves of the year that has passed – and the importance of TAFE to the Australian community.

The attempts by state governments to destroy their TAFE system features prominently in three state elections in the last year – Victoria, Queensland and NSW. While the outcomes of those elections were different, there is little doubt that each of them demonstrated how important TAFE is to local communities and to individuals across the country.

In Victoria and Queensland, the new governments immediately implemented promises to increase funding to TAFE, and we are now awaiting the outcomes of the review in Victoria to see what that government intends to do to save its TAFE system.

The private for profit VET sector continues to grow, and it continues through the activities of some of its most unethical members to undermine trust in the whole VET system by ripping students off. Increasingly, the activities of these rogue operators are not the exception but the norm.

In the last few weeks, attempts by the South Australian government to walk away from their Skills for All policy by directing the majority of the remnants of their VET funding to TAFE for a limited period were met with howls of outrage from the private sector in that state. Hundreds of TAFE teachers have lost their jobs in SA, courses have closed and funding has been cut by more than 40% since 2004 – but news of the changes was met with outrage as the private sector in SA argued that it was in some way entitled to a share of public money to profit from.

Research undertaken by the University of Sydney early this year showed that private providers in VET were making super profits of between 30 and 50 per cent – double or triple the rates of profit in other “profitable” industries. This is not only a complete waste of government funds, but stops funds from being reinvested back into public institutions and community assets - TAFEs

This is currently where we find ourselves in TAFE. The private sector continues to grow, increasing its share of scarce public funding. Every day, stories about unethical behavior by the private sector come to light – highlighting the fact that trust in the VET system, the whole VET system, is being undermined. Governments in Victoria, SA and Queensland are publicly acknowledging the failure of their radical changes – and at the same time, student debt in the VET sector is growing exponentially. In 2009, at the introduction of the VET FEE-HELP scheme the amount of money expended was $25m. In 2014, this had grown to $1.6b.

Attempts to destroy TAFE and the underfunding of the system have not achieved any of the objectives that governments claimed they would. This is a failed policy experiment – and as the 2015 National TAFE Day celebration shows – the campaign is building as more and more people get involved.

Australians must be involved in the decision about whether any government funding should go to organisations whose main purpose is the creation of profit for their shareholders or owners, as is currently occurring in VET. In the meantime, this National TAFE Day, and as we campaign in the lead up to the next Federal Election, we must call on all political parties to immediately cap the amount of funding allocated contestably in the sector at a minimum of 30%. At the same time, we must continue to raise awareness of the impact of market reform on individual students, on communities and on industry as the TAFE system continues to struggle to survive across the country.

At the National TAFE Day reception in Canberra on June 24, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Skills Minister Senator Simon Birmingham will address TAFE teachers, students, and apprentices along with Federal politicians, unions and representatives from the sector. This is an important opportunity for both parties to stand up for the TAFE system across the country.

Pat Forward is the Federal TAFE Secretary of the Australian Education Union