Students in tears over Smart and Skilled

Rob Long
TAFE Organiser

The privatisation of TAFE funding is receiving wide media coverage as the state election approaches, with members of the public dismayed at the results.

“Callers broke down and cried on ABC radio as Education Minister Adrian Piccoli went on air to talk about his TAFE reforms. One caller, then the next, sobbed. Vocational training is supposed to be about a leg-up. But for single mother Emma from Coogee, the ladder was ripped away when she received a letter from Randwick TAFE saying the early childhood diploma she was midway through would now cost more than $2000 a year. When she enrolled it was free. She didn’t have the money. ‘You tell me how that’s fair,’ she asked Piccoli last Monday,” Kristy Needham reported in the Sun Herald on February 21.

“Five weeks out from an election, things are chaotic at TAFE. Enrolments have been severely disrupted by the failure of a new computer system needed for the reforms, which force TAFE to compete for students with private providers, and increase fees. Students are getting the wrong information. School-leavers are baulking at the fees. Enrolments are down, say insiders,” she also wrote.

“Teachers at TAFE’s online training division, OTEN TAFE, passed a motion labelling the reforms a “disaster”.

“Every time a hard luck story is raised in the media, Piccoli’s office is swift to fix things. Individual students are grateful. But perhaps there is a wider problem, Minister.

“How did training reform bring people to tears?” she concludes.

The dramatic increase in TAFE fees was also illustrated by the story in the Cessnock Advertiser on March 1. Joanne Worthington of Cessnock was charged $6100 for a Certificate III in Aged Care.

“An unemployed single mum, Ms Worthington said she was looking at this career path due to the current shortage of staff, meaning her job prospects would be quite high. She said she calculated online that the course would be $240 with government assistance. However, upon arrival at Cessnock TAFE earlier this year, she said she was considered to be a "professional student" as she had studied another course in the past and would have to pay $6100 to do the course.”

Problems with the privatisation of TAFE funding are outlined by Serena Yu and Damien Oliver in the online journal Smart Company: "Private providers are amassing huge profits at taxpayers' expense, the quality of the system is declining and students may face large debts for courses they either didn't complete or were not of a high standard."

"Vocational training is crucial for both young Australians and the future of our economy, yet in recent years private providers who face little oversight or scrutiny have turned the sector upside down," they also write.