Funding TAFE is
for the public good

Kerri Carr

Pat Forward: pass on the flame, not the ashes.

The Stop TAFE Cuts campaign is about rebuilding the idea of TAFE as a public institution dealing with public good, Australian Education Union Federal TAFE President Pat Forward said.

Speaking on day 2 of Federation’s Annual Conference she said the current attack on TAFE (being made to compete with private providers for public vocational education and training funds, resulting in course closures and job losses) was to shut down the idea of public vocational education.

“Governments and bureaucrats embarked on a campaign to destroy TAFE 20 years ago,” Ms Forward said.

“They renamed it VET, they said competition and markets should control policy through employers, they said students should become consumers who exercise choice over their provider, and who should pay, and become indebted for the opportunity to access crude and debased skills for a job.”

Ms Forward said TAFE needed a new narrative: one that rejected the drive to see students as consumers of private goods.

“TAFE does so many things,” Ms Forward said.

“It helps form people as members of particular trades, as members of paraprofessional groups and it enables people to gain entry into the professions. It is a home for adult learners to learn to read and write and for others to learn English. And it is this complexity that makes for its richness. This vision of the public institution of TAFE is not a matter of modern branding; it goes to the heart of how teachers see themselves and students, and vice versa.”

She said TAFE teachers “teach students, not skills or training packages” and “see students not just as they are at the moment, but who they can become as they work their way through courses — and to engage with how they are”.

Ms Forward said the broadest possible support for public TAFE institutions was needed to assert the valuable role of public vocational education institutions.

“Don’t underestimate the scale of the attack on the TAFE system,” she said.

“TAFE will not survive in its current form in many states and territories.”

She said it was the job of teacher unionists “to pass on the flame…not the ashes of the system that the marketeers have tried to destroy”.