QUESTIONS from the floor at Tuesday’s forum were for the most part – and understandably - directed at Liberal Minister Matthew Mason-Cox.
One woman asked for Mr Mason-Cox to outline “the reality of course fees and the concessions available” after it was pointed out several in the room were currently studying a currently subsidised Certificate IV in Community Services, but to continue to a Diploma next year would put them out of pocket almost $9500.
The Minister for Fair Trading directed forum attendees to the State Training Services website, which has comprehensive information about Smart and Skilled and an up-to-date list of courses and associated fees for 2015.
“We have made very clear what our promises are,” Mr Mason-Cox said, one of those promises being a “fixed price on a course” regardless of which training provider a student chooses.
Another audience member then asked what provisions were in place to make sure registered training organisations abided by performance parameters and didn’t “rort” the system and sign off on underskilled students.
Greens MLC John Kaye reiterated that “nowhere in Smart and Skilled is the requirement for minimum hours of delivery”.
“The private sector will not be based on quality…the shorter courses will get the students,” he said.
Bega TAFE teacher David Grainger raised the issue of TAFE’s support network, Equity Services, which assists students’ learning needs so they can successfully complete their vocational studies.
Those utilising the added support of Equity include deaf or blind students, those physically disadvantaged, or even just in need of extra assistance with learning how to use a computer.
To that and another query on whether concessions would be available to released prisoners to help them get an education and stay clear of the prison system Mr Mason-Cox had no answer.
However, he agreed to take them on notice and chase up answers for anyone not able to have their query dealt with in the limited time available on Tuesday night.
Concerns from the forum floor
THE BDN spoke with several forum attendees before it got underway to get an understanding of what concerns they had and what questions they wished raised.
Laura Wilcox is currently studying a Certificate IV in Community Services at the TAFE Illawarra Bega campus.
She was concerned “only people who can afford the full cost of an education get the opportunities” and that removing subsidised courses “would potentially increase unemployment, homelessness and, I think, crime”.
Elizabeth Blackmore, a retired TAFE teacher and former education officer in the prison systems of NSW and ACT said she was attending the forum as she “can’t stand Tony Abbott and what he’s doing” and had similar concerns of the State Government.
“I’m anti-apathy,” Ms Blackmore said.
“I’m very interested in how this small town deals with the big issues.”
Ian Nazer is a part-time teacher in Bega TAFE’s General Education faculty.
“I’m interested in how this is all unravelling politically,” Mr Nazer said.
“I call Smart and Skilled ‘Dumb and Useless’ as the State Government is degrading the skills base via a cost-cutting exercise.
“There is also no serious assessment of learnt skills, which will be disastrous in the long-term.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Ms Wilcox said she was glad she went.
Whether it answered her questions or raised more, she admitted there was “a bit of both”.
However, she did get to pose a question to Labor candidate for Bega Leanne Atkinson, asking while she is hearing a lot of how the Liberal reforms are damaging, what will Labor do instead?
Ms Atkinson said, as a candidate not an elected representative, she didn’t have that detail, but could publicise party policy as it’s released.
“There’s one party telling me what the other side is doing wrong, but I want them to tell me what both sides will do so I can make an informed choice,” Ms Wilcox said.