MPs speak up for TAFE

Maxine Sharkey
Assistant General Secretary (Post School Education)

The week of National TAFE Day was a significant time in the Stop TAFE Cuts campaign.

At the National TAFE Day reception in Federal Parliament House held by the Australian Education Union, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane acknowledged the difference teachers make in students’ lives.

The following day, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten addressed TAFE supporters at Canberra Institute of Technology, outlining why cuts to TAFE need to stop. He promised Labor would be champions for TAFE.

In NSW, the Upper House carried the Save TAFE Bill, to stop the Smart and Skilled training market, restore TAFE funding and freeze TAFE fees and money going to private providers. Greens MPs were joined by Labor and the Shooters and Fishers Party to pass the bill.

Greens MLC John Kaye said: “The battle to save TAFE from the free-fall collapse it experienced in other states has taken an important step forward.

“Stripping TAFE of funding for its core courses and handing over to students to choose between providers is a recipe for falling standards, shorter course offerings and the triumph of cheap marketing tricks over quality outcomes for the state.”

Opposition Leader John Robertson’s Budget reply speech included a much needed, timely and significant change in policy direction for TAFE.

Mr Robertson acknowledged that “everyone deserves an education — the chance to learn, to fulfil their potential in life, and contribute to society. Education is also a key to economic prosperity, and equipping our workforce with the right skills is an urgent concern for NSW”.

“In this time of technological change, with new jobs quickly emerging and replacing others, investment in quality education is more important than ever,” he said.

“TAFE is a key pillar of our public education system that ensures our young people can acquire the skills they need for jobs for the future through high quality, affordable vocational education and training.”

Mr Robertson said Labor would cap TAFE fees at current 2014 levels, and increases would not go beyond CPI.

“Mike Baird has a vision for TAFE to run as a business rather than a public service,” he said.

Labor’s pledge to cap student fees at current levels and abolish the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled changes acknowledged that a high quality TAFE system is crucial to meeting the current skills shortage and ensuring all citizens can access the vocational education and training (VET) that enables them to gain employment and contribute positively to the nation’s future.

In light of the persistent high rates of youth unemployment and the Abbott Government’s decision to punish young people who cannot find work by denying them a Newstart allowance for six months, the Labor call for a review of education and training beyond year 10 is also timely. It is important to develop better ways of aligning the provision of VET with the needs of students, employers and industries.

Teachers who have been calling for increased resourcing and support for the delivery of VET in both schools and TAFE would hope such a review would confirm the need for greater investment and coordination in this area.

At the end of the day, the citizens of NSW rightly expect governments to provide high quality public education for all students, rather than turn this responsibility over to a private education marketplace where making a profit takes priority over providing quality VET courses for students.