TEACHERS Federation representative Robert Long visited Bega this week to discuss proposed funding cuts and course changes at TAFE Illawarra Bega campus.
Mr Long said although budgets have not been released, the Teachers Federation believed large cuts are planned as part of the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled program, which is due to be rolled out in early 2015.
Smart and Skilled seeks to fund courses the government believes provide qualifications meeting the current needs of industry or have strong post-training job prospects.
Courses the government believes do not meet these criteria, such as fine arts and ceramics, have already been axed or attract course fees that are not subsidised.
Smart and Skilled courses will be delivered not only by TAFE, but by private accredited institutions, with both bodies vying for the same funding dollars.
“With the threat of Smart and Skilled in 2015, Bega TAFE students are facing funding cuts resulting in larger class sizes, increased fees and debt and reduced course time,” Mr Long said.
“Illawarra TAFE is currently planning where to cut courses across the region to deal with the budget cuts coming in January 2015 when the Smart and Skilled policy is implemented.”
Mr Long said regional TAFEs are going to be the hardest hit by funding cuts.
“When the Victorian government overhauled the TAFE system, it decimated regional TAFEs.
“There were a combination of measures that led to this – increased class sizes, the cutting of permanent teaching staff and cutting course duration while also raising student fees.
“TAFEs were ultimately made to merge.”
Mr Long said of most concern to the Teachers Federation is the fate of programs in place to help students with a disability in regional areas.
“There are currently four staff in place at Illawarra TAFE and its satellite campuses to assist students with a disability,” he said.
“During the restructure of the Victorian TAFE system, positions like these were cut and all assistance was offered through campus administration by staff who had neither the experience or training of those previously employed to do these jobs."
Mr Long met with teachers and students to discuss changes in TAFE funding.
Metal fabrication student Jeremy Meinrath has studied at both city and regional TAFE and believes Bega is already under resourced.
“I was an apprentice in 1992 and did blacksmithing at Ultimo TAFE, and now I’m back at TAFE here in Bega to do a Certificate II and III in Metal Fabrication to retrain and reskill.
“I think it’s terrible how regional TAFEs are treated, why can’t they have all the stuff a city TAFE has?
“At Ultimo, there were so many teachers, tutors and support staff, in two seconds flat someone was there to help you and the equipment was great.
“Here, the teacher is great, but he has to take on so many roles and stretch himself really thin.
“The machines are all seconds from the Wollongong TAFE and they didn’t even come with the instruction manuals.”
Mr Long said a student like Mr Meinrath, who already has one qualification from TAFE, would not qualify for subsidised fees under the new system.
“His fees could jump from $1000 when subsidised to $9000, although his previous training is no longer relevant and he needs to re-skill to be employable,” he said.
“In Bega we are concerned the negative implications of these cuts to our students’ learning have not been fully analysed.
“Our teachers are deeply concerned for our students and the local industry.”