AROUND 40 people, many sporting “Stop TAFE cuts” T-shirts, attended Tuesday night’s community forum discussing the State Government’s vocational education reforms.
The forum at Club Bega was facilitated by NSW Teachers Federation representative Rob Long and included guest speakers Pat Forward from the Australian Education Union, Greens MLC John Kaye, Labor candidate for Bega Leanne Atkinson and Liberal Fair Trading Minster Matthew Mason-Cox.
Mr Mason-Cox was in attendance on behalf of Bega MP and NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance, who was chairing a Cabinet budget meeting in Sydney.
However, it was almost as if he drew the short straw as there was plenty of concern and angst in the room directed at the NSW Liberal Party.
Each speaker was given a short window in which to speak to the crowd on Smart and Skilled – a reform package that is being rolled out across NSW, with the major changes to occur from January 2015.
The reforms include a proportion of government funding for vocational education being contestable by private operators as well as the public TAFE system.
It also involves a “skills list” outlining which courses will attract government concessions, which the NSW Liberals say is based on extensive consultation with stakeholders and the needs of industry.
However, the unions and TAFE students are already voicing displeasure with the reforms, saying it will decimate regional TAFE campuses and lead to loss of jobs, closed facilities and an underskilled workforce.
Ms Forward began the forum by highlighting TAFE is already the lowest-funded sector of education and while the public school, private school and higher education sectors have all seen steady increases in funding over the past 20 years, TAFE has been on a downward slope.
She also pointed out the situation in Victoria where a version of Smart and Skilled was introduced in 2008.
Since then, eight of 14 TAFE Institutes have run at a loss and 2500 permanent teachers have lost their jobs, plus an untold number of casuals.
In 2008, 22.5 per cent of Victorian government funding was contestable by the open market – in 2012 that percentage had increased to 71.31.
“These reforms are being set against the backdrop of a serious reduction in funding,” Ms Forward said.
“Government policy is shifting the cost of vocational education on to students.”
Mr Mason-Cox countered, saying NSW has learnt from the mistakes of Victoria and the State Government “has full confidence in TAFE”.
“Our budget for vocational education is $2.3billion, a $125million increase over last year,” Mr Mason-Cox said.
“Of that, $1.8billion is for TAFE – and $1.1billion is guaranteed.
“The myth that we are here to privatise TAFE is very misleading.”
Mr Mason-Cox also pointed out the Government is implementing a fixed price for a course – whether delivered through TAFE or other registered training organisation.
“And we have made clear what courses we will subsidise, which are determined by industry needs, and we make no apologies for that.
“We are not going to subsidise aromatherapy or ceramics.
“We will subsidise courses that, through consultation with key stakeholders, have been determined as those that will drive jobs and drive young people into employment.”