Meltdown again in January?

Tony Morrissey

Recent exposés of expensive software bungles in the learning management and business reform LMBR/EBS system being installed in TAFE and schools throw a much-needed spotlight on the enormous problems caused to TAFE staff.

Late last month, the Sun-Herald, citing the Auditor-General, reported that “the new software system that threw student enrolments into chaos in January” has somehow swallowed up records of $525 million in student fees and course revenue, leaving an enormous black hole in its accounts.

In October, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Department of Education had changed the terms of its contract with the operator of the LMBR computerised schools administration system as it deals with a cost blowout of hundreds of millions.

The Education Department established LMBR in 2006 with an estimated total cost of $386 million. This system was intended to replace legacy finance, human resources, payroll and student administration systems across the Department and TAFE and be up and running by 2014.

This system has blown out to $576 million with only a fraction of schools completely serviced and significant problems showing up in both the TAFE and schools systems.The TAFE computer system (EBS), which is part of LMBR, came into operation in October 2014. The EBS system replaced the reliable TAFE CLAIMS computer system which had been working successfully for the last 10 years.

The new TAFE EBS computer system is a complete failure as was demonstrated in March this year when teachers could not enrol students online and were forced to enrol students manually, resulting in students lining up for hours.

Seven months down the track, things have got worse.

Thousands of TAFE students are still not officially enrolled in their courses because of computer glitches.

Worse, students cannot access their results, especially if they did subjects at different TAFE colleges, as the computer system does not interact with other TAFE colleges. Due to such problems, some of the EBS features have now been disarmed.

As it take over an hour to enrol a class, teachers have been forced to set up their own spreadsheets to record students attendance and results. Head teachers cannot easily access student results and see which students are attending a particular college.

Worst of all, the government’s funding of TAFE colleges is based on what is recorded in the EBS system, and consequently TAFE college funding has been reduced accordingly.

It is good to see that the Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has agreed to visit a school having problems with the computer system. I wish that John Barilaro, the Minister for Skills, would visit a TAFE college and see first-hand the problems that TAFE teachers are facing in trying to use this computer system.

Next January, the chickens will come home to roost when students want be able to access their results quickly. The enrolments in TAFE next year will be the greatest fiasco in TAFE history as teachers will have no easy indication of what subjects the student has passed or failed.

On October 15, the Premier, Mike Baird, said in parliament that his government is proud of what it is accomplishing in the TAFE and VET sectors. His Smart and Skilled program has resulted in the sacking of 2500 TAFE teachers and the proposed selling of 27 TAFE colleges. In addition, VET is the quickest get-rich scheme there is and each “sign-up” earns a private provider $18,000 in tax money.

No wonder Mike Baird has been nicknamed the “Teflon Kid”.

Tony Morrissey teaches at Ultimo TAFE.