From the president: TAFE can build a better future for all

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10 October 2022

The winds of change are blowing strongly across the Australian social and political landscapes. Not just because of a federal election that changed a government, and potentially the norms of our Australian political system, but because the voting public have found their voice and they are demanding something different.

Our Rebuild with TAFE campaign has its foundations in the very strong connection between communities and TAFE. In regional and remote communities, disadvantaged communities, cities and towns alike TAFE has a long history of providing high-quality vocational education for all.

Investment in TAFE must be at the core of every government’s policy agenda if real change is to be achieved. Independent research by the Centre for Future Work has shown that the investment in TAFE delivers an 11-fold return to the economy.

The despised policy of contestable funding has seen TAFE courses and the teachers who teach them sacrificed in favour of profits for private providers of sub-standard qualifications. It has also led to a massive shift in the cost of delivering TAFE qualifications from public funding to student debt. Once a great leveller, TAFE courses are now beyond the reach of many who should be the primary beneficiaries of this public good. The fact is that businesses and industry also want a robust TAFE to mitigate labour and skills shortages and the government needs to act now.

The mechanism for change is clear. A principal objective of the Rebuild with TAFE campaign was the commitment to providing 70 per cent of all government funding for vocational education directly to TAFE. Our work now must be to encourage the new federal government to deliver on its commitment and to lead all jurisdictions to the same outcome.

The loss of teaching and support staff in TAFE and the paring back of course offerings have done lasting harm but they can be reversed. The pandemic has revealed this damage through the denial of migration and the loss of overseas workers who filled the gaps in the employment market caused by these policies.

Despite all of this, the demand for TAFE qualifications remains high. Critical skills shortages across the country are impacting economic recovery and growth. These are skills underpinned by the qualifications TAFE has always provided and can do so again.

Likewise, the future of climate change, and measures to urgently address the crisis it has generated, must include a just transition to a greener economy. TAFE is well positioned to support this change.

On the face of it, the only logical way forward is to invest in TAFE to rebuild our community. What we know of course is that the best arguments don’t always win a campaign. Our work to achieve the hope of our Rebuild with TAFE campaign will continue but now in the positive context of a new government, a policy platform and community demands that lead in the right direction, we can build a better future with TAFE.

Thanks go to each and every one of our members, allies and supporters who contributed to our campaign to see a change in government. Every leaflet you letterboxed, conversation you held and social media post contributed to the election outcome. Thank you!

Michelle Purdy

This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Winter 2022