TAFE funding cuts raise fears over training skills

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National

Education
NSW

Date

March 9, 2014

  • (3)

Kirsty Needham

State Politics Editor

View more articles from Kirsty Needham



john

Job losses: John Santangelo lost his teaching position. Photo: Steve Lunam

Almost 400 TAFE staff lost their jobs last year because of the O’Farrell government’s funding cuts, and the Northern Sydney and Sydney institutes were the worst hit, new data shows.

In addition to slashing jobs – including those of more than 220 teachers and head teachers – to save costs, institutes have cut face-to-face teaching hours, trimmed the classroom day from eight to seven hours, and reduced course durations from three years to 2½ years, or doubled student to teacher ratios.

The very future of TAFE is being put in question 

The TAFE Teachers Association and the Australasian College of Medical Sciences and Research have complained to the government that skills training for plumbing and electrical trades, auto repairs, carpentry, health sciences, and fitting and machining have been degraded.

One employer, the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), was so alarmed at the impact on teaching quality that it pulled 15 apprentices out of TAFE Illawarra last month, after it shortened its electrical trades course from 36 to 30 weeks.

”I am pretty fussy about training,” said Barry Dawson, general manager of group training for NECA, which employs 500 apprentices. ”I was concerned about what they were cutting out.”

He will discuss the issue with officials at the institute, which has lost 10 teachers.

Greens MP John Kaye said the widespread cuts, forced by a drop in funding from the state government, had devastated the colleges and undermined skills training, and there was worse to come. ”The very future of TAFE is being put in question,” Mr Kaye said.

The Northern Sydney Institute lost 102 full-time staff, including 21 head teachers and 30 teachers; the Sydney Institute lost 71 staff, including 56 teachers. South-western Sydney lost 27 teachers out of 36 jobs cut, and Western Sydney lost 27 teachers among 51 jobs cut.

NSW TAFE Teachers Association president Phillip Chadwick said there were safety concerns when trades courses were cut back.

”Institutes are making terrible decisions on how to cope with the funding cuts,” Mr Chadwick said.

The Australasian College of Medical Sciences and Research has written to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli accusing TAFE’s Sydney institute of failing to meet industry quality standards in its health and science laboratory courses, amid complaints from students and employers.

John Santangelo had taught pathology for seven years at the Sydney Institute, after working in hospitals for 35 years, but lost his job in August 2012. The institute told his department they would cut staff by 40 per cent.

The course length had since been reduced. ”It’s a big worry. I used to get plenty of jobs for my students … but there’s no quality there at all now,” Mr Santangelo said.

TAFE institutes will be forced to compete with low-cost private providers from next year.

A similar exercise in Victoria resulted in the public provider’s institutes ending up on the verge of bankruptcy and student numbers plummeting, Mr Kaye said.

An education department spokeswoman said the reforms would ”take into account lessons learnt from the Victorian experience”, and students and employers would give feedback on training outcomes.

”Changes to staffing levels are in response to changing demand and are designed to ensure TAFE is operating efficiently, remains competitive and training is focused on areas of jobs growth,” the spokeswoman said.


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