Be vigilant, or crisis could engulf TAFE

It is remarkable that anyone watching the emerging fiasco that is engulfing Victorian TAFE can see any positives, let alone call it a success.

This is, however, the publicly stated position of Peter Hall, the Minister for Higher Education and Skills in Victoria. With the uncapping of student places and the implementation of a voucher system, the TAFE share of the Victorian VET market has dropped from close to 75 per cent at the beginning of 2011 to just under 50 per cent before Christmas.

The overall VET budget was overspent due to unexpected demand, with some private providers encouraging enrolments with  cash incentive “scholarships” paid directly to students. As the funding in Victoria is now attached to the student, it is a marketing investment that paid dividends. The Victorian government’s response to the budget shortfall was to strip the Victorian TAFE system of more money. The Executive Director of the Victorian TAFE Association, David Williams, has estimated that $230 million  will be stripped from TAFE Victoria over the next four years, with $165 million of that coming from the metropolitan institutions.

In the light of declining student enrolments, many Victorian TAFEs have been reconsidering their staffing arrangements, with advertised jobs being recalled and staff being let go. There are now increasing concerns that some Victorian TAFEs may not survive the implementation of the open training market. Dr Phillip Toner, an OECD advisor and leading academic, has called the market design in Victoria an ideology run amok, a ridiculous system that would fail first-year economics.

Despite the evidence that there are serious problems with the training market as it has been cobbled together by the new Victorian Coalition government, Queensland seems destined to continue to flirt with the same set of ideas. In order to get to the “training market” party, the driver has sat in his car and, finding one of the tyres is flat, has proceeded to let down the remaining tyres instead of fixing the flat. Who wants to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty when they’re all dressed to the nines and off to a party? Getting to the party with everyone else is the key concern and everything else can be fixed after the hangover.

What is the nail stuck in the tyre of the VET car? Low-cost, low-quality providers more interested in profit taking than student building.

We need to be vigilant and protect the things we value about TAFE.  Remember that the rhetoric around the introduction of the VET market is that it will produce more qualified workers, faster and cheaper. It’s about the economy, apparently, and the market is supposed to be supreme.

Rather than deal with the issues involved in maintaining high standards of delivery and assessment across a range of public and private providers, the system is hell-bent on reducing costs as its sole aim. Rather than dealing with the high costs of compliance and the spiralling overheads within TAFE, it is the skilled professional teacher who is constantly under attack, and increasingly so, through the purchasing model.

Bet your bottom dollar that the cost savings identified will relate to the wages and conditions of trainers, tutors, teachers and education leaders (EALs)  and that it will be done in the upcoming government policy and implemented through the enterprise bargaining process.

David Terauds
TAFE Organiser

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 2, 16 March 2012, p23