TAFE Illawarra has denied changes to its electrical trades training - including a 16 per cent reduction in the time apprentices will spend with their teachers - are aimed at cost-cutting, but won't say whether the new regime will be more or less expensive to run.
The institute's electrical trade apprentices will spend 30 days in the classroom this year, a 16 per cent reduction from 2013, when students attended TAFE for 36 days (one day a week) amid their on-the-job training.
The change has sparked the ire of the NSW TAFE Teachers' Association and has prompted an employer, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), to withdraw nine apprentices from Illawarra TAFE campuses and enrol them in Gymea TAFE, where training is still delivered over 36 days.
Responding yesterday, TAFE Illawarra's trades and technology faculty director Marty Burgess said the cuts to classroom hours had been wrongly categorised as cost-motivated and an affront to training quality.
"They're not cost-cutting measures; they're measures to improve the quality of training to students," he said.
'This is actually good news, this new model of delivery.
"It allows students to have greater flexibility and [access to] their learning materials when, where and how they want to, so I'm very confident we'll maintain the quality of training and our completion rates will also stand up.
"We'll be at the forefront of how training and learning's delivered."
Under the changes, course material including videos will be made available to students through TAFE's online learning site, Moodle - allowing apprentices to work from home or at work, Mr Burgess said.
Asked whether employers would simply put their apprentices to work during the hours they no longer spent in the classroom, Mr Burgess said: "That's not an issue for TAFE, that's an issue for them and their employer.
"Our responsibility is to provide them with the access to the learning materials they need to study at their own pace, so that students that need additional help can be given it, we can analyse how they're learning and we can provide access to the learning any time."
Mr Burgess said TAFE Illawarra was responding to demand among apprentices for new, more flexible ways of learning.
He would not be drawn on whether the training would cost more or less to deliver than in the past.
He said students would remain subject to a "rigorous system of assessment" and would still have to prove to their employers that they were competent.