QTU President
Kevin Bates

President's comment - 22 April 2013

TAFE must soar like an eagle not die like a canary!

On more than one occasion in recent times I have heard commentators observe that recent developments in TAFE are to education generally what the canary was in the mineshaft*: a harbinger of doom.

For 130 years, the Queensland system of Technical and Further Education has provided the skills and training required to build a prosperous and productive economic and social system in our state. The Queensland Government has announced a plan to reconstruct TAFE in the image of failed market-based organisations - plans that threaten the prosperity they claim to aspire to.

The National TAFE Council of the Australian Education Union met in Melbourne on the weekend of 21/22 April. Many reports focused on the complete marketisation of the skills and training sector that has been attempted in Victoria and the attendant disastrous consequences. National dialogue on this agenda is now focused on avoiding the Victorian experience through 'fine tuning' the schemes imposed there rather than abandoning the privatisation philosophy that underpins them. 

The privatisation philosophy is also extending to the schools sector, with proposals in the public domain ranging from Independent Public Schools “outsourcing” services to all schools being recreated as private companies (with government loans to fund their start up) which would then tender to win government contracts to provide school education from Prep to Year 12. Sound extreme? This is the very model of education in operation in TAFE in Victoria, now proposed for Queensland.

Queensland's answer to the Victorian experiment in TAFE is embodied in the Skills and Training Taskforce (STT) Report. Like the Costello Commission of Audit into the Queensland economy and government generally, the STT Report is a construct to enable the imposition of a particular government agenda. In the case of TAFE, this is a fully competitive market, the deconstruction of the century old institution of public vocation education and training in this state and the inexorable rush to "small" government that seems to dominate the conservative political ethos nationally.

The unenviable position of union members in these circumstances is that we are left with the sole responsibility of working assiduously to protect that which we worked so hard to achieve for ourselves and others in the first instance. 

We must attempt to enlist the aid of other progressive groups in our community in support of this cause lest we face decades of developmental delay as we eventually recover from the deprivations thrust upon us. 

Returning to my theme, TAFE, and education generally, should be set to soar like an eagle, uplifted by enlightened funding strategies aimed at redressing inequity and freeing teachers of the shackles of under-resourcing. Education is too important, socially and economically, to suffer the fate of the mine canary.

Kevin Bates

* Historically, miners would take caged birds into mineshafts; the death of the bird revealed the presence of dangerous odourless gases and allowed the miners to escape before asphyxiation occurred.