Bega TAFE students rethink future under Smart and Skilled

A HANDFUL of students at TAFE Illawarra Bega campus met with Greens MLC John Kaye and NSW Teachers Federation representative Rob Long on Tuesday morning to relay their concerns over upcoming reforms to vocational education.

Dr Kaye and Mr Long, along with TAFE secretary of the Australian Education Union Pat Forward were in Bega for a community forum Tuesday night on the State Government’s Smart and Skilled reform package, due to be implemented in 2015.

An element of the reforms includes qualifications above Certificate III level not attracting government subsidies (with certain exceptions based on a priority skills list).

Students will also be given the opportunity to choose between TAFE and other approved training organisation offering their selected course.

Dr Kaye heard the students, who are currently studying for a Certificate IV in Community Services, would struggle to continue through to a diploma level if the Smart and Skilled reforms go through as tabled.

Tracey Escreet is one such student, who told Mr Kaye her course currently attracts a $106 fee, which is covered by concessions.

However, to continue next year, she said she will be slugged with a bill for $9470.

Her story was echoed by her classmates.

“I’m a single mother who wants to better my future,” Rebecca Lamont said.

“I’ve worked as a hairdresser, but want a change and to re-educate myself – but I don’t have the real funds to do a diploma.

“There are no concessions for diplomas,” she said.

“And if there are no students [for these courses], there won’t be jobs for teachers.”

Self-funded apprentice boilermaker Brian Ahern said the State Government’s announced reform package is already hurting TAFE and would be to the detriment of the region’s workforce.

He said his course once involved 36 hours a week at TAFE, but was being cut to 20 hours a week.

“Boilermaking is a fairly broad trade – those extra hours are valuable,” Mr Ahern said.

“There are definitely skills shortages in that field.”

Dr Kaye said the Smart and Skilled vocational education reforms “sit nicely with Andrew Constance’s business model view of competition”.

“But it doesn’t work when you speak with students,” he said on Tuesday.

“It’s fine on a spreadsheet, but lousy in the classroom.

“The market won’t deliver affordability or quality.”

A community forum on vocational education reforms and how they could affect TAFE is being held at Club Bega on Tuesday night, from 6.30pm. 

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