National TAFE Day – June 13 – Guarantee funding to TAFE!

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1 June 2017

National TAFE Day for 2017 will be celebrated against the backdrop of the announcement by the Federal ALP of a guarantee of a minimum 2/3rds government funding to TAFE. This offers TAFE institutes around the country the first glimmer of hope in what has been a devastating few years. The announcement follows a commitment by the NSW ALP before the last state election that a minimum 70% government funding would go to NSW TAFE, and a commitment by ACT Labor in 2016 that 70% of territory funding would be reserved for TAFE.

Only two weeks after this announcement, Careers Australia, one of the biggest private for-profit providers in the country shut its doors to more than 15,000 students and over 1000 staff members. Careers Australia was notorious for its unscrupulous targeting and recruitment of vulnerable students, its use of IPads as inducements to enrol – and staggering low completion rates. Careers Australia made an estimated profit of $38.5 million in 2016, and sent more than $40 million to its shareholders in the 2015/16 financial year.

In this same period TAFE funding has continued to erode, the reputation of the sector has been damaged, and further announcements in the Federal Government’s 2017 budget will continue to damage TAFE, and harm the whole sector. The 2017 Federal Budget, which includes a 10% funding cut in real terms included the announcement of the Skilling Australia Fund. Within days, stakeholders had raised concerns with the unusual mechanism the government was using to fund the scheme - a levy on skilled visas - with concerns that it would not raise enough money to finance the scheme. It soon became clear that much of the funding in the scheme would be channelled to employers in the form of incentive payments, and that there was little prospect that much of the money would go to TAFE colleges.

Two other damaging and significant announcements in the Federal Budget – the opening of Commonwealth Supported Places for sub degree programs at university, and the reduction of the repayment threshold for income contingent loans will have a significant, and damaging impact on TAFE and TAFE students.

The extension of Commonwealth Supported Places to sub-degree programs at university will damage TAFE Diploma and Advanced Diplomas because many students will be better funded, and carry less debt if they undertake these courses at university rather than TAFE. VET Student Loans are fully fee for service, and many students will be out of pocket for that part of the course which exceeds the funding.

The reduction of the repayment threshold for income contingent loans will have a disproportionate impact on TAFE students because substantially more of them will be on lower incomes, even where they have successfully acquired a qualification. Indeed, given the uncertain impact of dodgy private providers on the sector, it is now likely that students carrying debt for worthless qualifications, or qualifications which were not delivered to them will be required to start repaying the debt much earlier.

In this context, the ALP’s funding guarantee announcement is both significant, and potentially far reaching - and it is a testament to members and supporters of the Stop TAFE Cuts campaign around the country.

The key message which comes from the funding guarantee is that the campaign to rebuild and restore TAFE is only just beginning – but that there is now a real prospect of rebuilding TAFE after a decade of “reforms” which have left TAFE devastated, and which have significantly damaged the reputation of the whole vocational education sector. The announcement is a clear acknowledgement that market models of organisation do not work in education. Now there is much to be done to ensure the Federal Coalition also embraces a TAFE funding guarantee.

In the last ten years, funding for TAFE and vocational education has been cut by more than 24%.

TAFE is now a minority provider in Queensland (30% market share) and Victoria (35%). It is close to minority nationally (50.3%). More than 10,000 TAFE teachers have lost their jobs over this period.

National TAFE Day is a day to celebrate the many achievements of the Australian TAFE system, and to continue the Stop TAFE Cuts campaign to pressure the Federal Government, and state and territory governments around the country to match the Federal ALP’s commitment to 2/3rds guaranteed funding for TAFE, and a programme of funding increases which will rebuild the TAFE system around the country.

It is only a funding guarantee which will provide TAFE with the funding it needs to rebuild, and the certainty to plan for the future.

There is a long way to go until the next Federal Election, and the ongoing funding cuts to TAFE are continuing to hurt students, and hollow out the sector. Australians trust TAFE, and have made it clear that they want a TAFE system. National TAFE Day is a good time to remind the whole community of the importance of TAFE.