Increased fees, the axing of TAFE courses and the introduction of the State Government’s Smart and Skilled policy have seen a record drop in TAFE enrolments.
In the three years before the introduction of Smart and Skilled (2012–2014) more than 40,000 students were lost from TAFE. With the introduction of Smart and Skilled this year, enrolments are forecast to be a further 43,000 less than last year’s low. This means a loss of more than 83,000 students from TAFE in four years.
There are fewer Aboriginal students and students with disabilities enrolled in TAFE. Budget papers forecast 2663 fewer Aboriginal students in TAFE this year than last year with 5289 fewer students with disabilities. Over the past four years 11,562 fewer students with disabilities have been trained in TAFE. They have not all gone to private providers. They are simply dropping out of vocational education.
The only area where TAFE enrolments are increasing is in diploma courses — an increase of 38,106 over the past four years.
TAFE has seen a massive loss of teaching expertise and support. In the past four years, 2600 full time equivalent positions have been lost with another 200 full time equivalent positions to be lost this year. TAFE budgets have been cut through the imposition of “efficiency dividends” and “labour expense caps” that can amount to around 2.5 per cent each financial year. TAFE will see even less guaranteed funding. It is estimated that more than 30 per cent of government funding will be “contestable” between TAFE and private providers.
School and TAFE teachers and other public servants will continue to have a cap on wage increases. There will continue to be limits on the hiring of staff and further cutbacks in department budgets under “efficiency dividends” and savings in procurement. While school teachers are exempt, the Department of Education is not exempt from cost saving restructures.
The Government reaffirmed its commitment to funding its share of the full six years of the Gonski agreement. Over the next four years, Gonski funding will pay for the NSW Government’s election commitments for additional release time for 1000 teachers in primary schools, an additional 236 school counsellors, student support officers and additional support for Aboriginal and refugee students.
Despite ageing schools, overcrowded schools in growth areas and a maintenance backlog, funding for capital works and maintenance continues at inadequate levels. The backlogs will continue. The Government claimed public school capital funding increased by 27 per cent, but the small print and further questioning revealed that last year’s budget was underspent because of delays in asset sales and the receipt of federal government funding for trade training centres. The expenditure has just been brought forward to this financial year. This year’s public school capital budget of around $1.6 billion for new schools and upgrades over four years is pretty much business as usual. In a submission to NSW Infrastructure the Department estimated that the capital and land costs of another 6250 classrooms to accommodate a 23 per cent increase in students in public schools over the next 15 years would be $8.25 billion in today’s dollars.
The election campaign commitment of an extra $1 billion over 10 years for new schools and upgrades from the Rebuilding NSW infrastructure fund financed from the sale of the poles and wires still falls short of need. Given the poles and wires have not been sold, the Department will get an advance from Treasury this year to estimate costs, but not build, a new high school at Ballina, a new high school for up to 2000 students on the Arthur Phillip High School site, a new primary school on the existing Parramatta Public School site and a new inner city school.
A School Asset Strategic Plan is being developed by the Department to prioritise projects and in the absence of a massive increase in government funding find “alternate” sources of investment. More public private partnerships, while not ruled out, are not, however, seen as a panacea. Commercial relationships with councils for the leasing of playing areas and joint developments with the private sector are under consideration. The Plan is also designed to once again document capital underfunding.
The NSW Auditor-General has documented a $548 million backlog in public school maintenance. The Budget papers did not provide information on maintenance. From the Departmental briefing, the maintenance budget is expected to be at the same inadequate levels.
The Government has failed to provide the funds to ensure the backlog of capital works and maintenance in public schools is completed.
The dramatic decline in student enrolments in TAFE and the massive loss of teacher expertise from TAFE is not good for the individual student’s life chances and hardly good for the NSW economy (Make a submission - see "Tell your TAFE story, for the system's sake".