South Australian Government Abandons TAFE
15 February 2019
The news from South Australia of the new Liberal Government’s closure of seven TAFE campuses across the State is devastating, if not surprising. Earlier this year, AEU South Australia President Howard Spreadbury warned voters “Steven Marshall and the South Australian Liberals would fully privatise our training system, leaving big corporate training providers syphoning off millions of taxpayer dollars and ripping-off students.”
It took less than six months for Mr Spreadbury’s words to become reality with the Liberals first budget announcement.While the budget was framed as an investment of $109 million dollars over five years to support TAFE, the treasurer called it a ‘bail out’ demonstrating an inherent lack of commitment to public education and signalling the Liberal Government’s eventual plan to walk away from TAFE altogether.
Rather than investing in TAFE, the government will carve out $33 million over four years through campus closures under the auspices of ‘operating efficiencies’ furthering its privatisation agenda and demonstrating a priority for making money rather than providing a quality and accessible education that is open to everyone.
Over the past five years, 700 full time jobs have been lost across the TAFE sector in South Australia, decimating broader communities. TAFE is often one of the biggest employers in regional locations and it is yet again these locations that will be hit the hardest, with campuses targeted for closure to include Tea Tree Gully, Port Adelaide, Urrbrae, Parafield, Wudinna, Roxby Downs and Coober Pedy.
TAFE plays an integral role in local communities, providing programs even when they are not financially viable, but because they offer pathways to further education or meet social needs. NewStart courses which equip young unemployed people with the skills and training they need to seek and gain employment will disappear under these closures leaving students in regional and remote areas to suffer the most.
As Mr Spreadbury reflected “Just imagine being a student in Coober Pedy. TAFE provides the only pathway for people in this remote community to gain vocational training. Closing the campus means closing off opportunities for this community to access education.’
The closures will have not only have a devastating effect on local communities, they will also impact local economies across the state. Port Adelaide is the heart of the ship building market in South Australia; Government should be leveraging the anticipated demand for skills in this industry as an opportunity to develop a strong public TAFE sector, while creating jobs and growth for the region.
TAFE already has a proven record for providing innovative courses that meet the skills and training needs for the local economy. As Nursery and Garden Industry of South Australia acting CEO Geoffrey Fuller told the Adelaide Advertiser, “Gardens, landscaping and horticulture in general are among the strongest growing areas of our state’s economy, so why take away the leading provider of training for the sector?
“Certainly, some private organisations conduct worthy courses, but horticulture courses need equipment and training facilities that are already set up at TAFE sites, not to mention the experience and skills of lecturers. Once gone, these will never be replaced.”
Port Adelaide Student Nurse Amanda Tolhurst spoke to the media on the day the cuts were announced and echoed this sentiment. “The whole point of TAFE is work based, community based training to get people started in jobs. If you take it away from the community, the skills base across South Australia is going to drop” she said.
Another Port Adelaide student, Sue Leech, is studying women’s education - a range of courses which are designed to provide women with the skills, knowledge and self-confidence to deal with education, career and life changes. As a former prisoner she emphasised the success that TAFE SA has achieved with assisting women prisoners rehabilitate back into the community. She is now about to start university. “If you take this away it will affect the women coming out of prison” she said.
The campus closures are being justified by the Liberal Government as a response to external reviews last year which highlighted concerns around quality, leadership and strategic direction. Yet, the Government cannot continue to defund TAFE and expect it to achieve high quality outcomes.
The South Australian Education Minister, John Gardner has stressed that the VET market of the future “will be will be based on contestability, access and choice” while the
the former Education Minister – and current Labor shadow minister – Susan Close is urging caution. “Across the country public vocational training needs to be strengthened. You don’t strengthen TAFE by closing campuses. Every state has learned lessons about trying to go too fast towards having TAFE compete on a level playing field with non-government providers.”
Now is not the time to be closing TAFEs. We need to invest in the future. We need a strong public TAFE sector that is not having to compete with private providers for limited public funding.Too much recent public policy has viewed vocational education as a commodity, believing it will thrive in a commercial market that will naturally improve teaching and improve student outcomes. However, as history teaches us, it often leads to a lack of diversity in the range of courses available because only the money-making courses survive. This in turn leads to a closure of regional TAFE campuses which denies access to vocational education, often to the people who need it most.
Now, more than ever is the time to invest in TAFE and invest in the skills of the future. TAFE must be championed as a public institution that benefits the whole of society in terms of employment, social cohesion and economic prosperity. It provides education and vocation to everyone and deserves better than the severe cuts that this South Australian Liberal Government budget delivers.
By Correna Haythorpe
This article originally appeared in The Australian TAFE Teacher Spring 2018.