Illawarra TAFE has cut face-to-face teaching time for its apprentice electricians to make up a budget blow-out of $1000 per student, according to teachers.
The claim runs contrary to those of Illawarra TAFE, which says the changes are aimed at offering students greater flexibility, and are not motivated by cost-cutting.
Under the changes, electrical trades apprentices will spend 30 days in the classroom this year - 16 per cent less than in 2013, when students attended TAFE for 36 days in between on-the-job training.
To counter classroom time lost, TAFE Illawarra has invested in new technology that will allow students to access learning material - including demonstration videos - over the internet at any time.
But teachers are concerned students will simply be put to work on the days they used to spend in the classroom, and that - forced to study at nights or on weekends - more students will drop out of their course as a result.
Moss Vale and Nowra TAFE campuses had moved to 30-week (one day a week) electrotechnology training programs last year, NSW Teachers Federation organiser Rob Long said.
"Anecdotal feedback was that there wasn't any extra training time provided for the students - they just had to go back to work," he said.
Electrotechnology teachers have told the NSW Teachers Federation that classroom time has been cut to meet budget, as the Illawarra Institute was spending $5000 on training each student annually, when the budget allowed for a $4000 spend.
Mr Long said teachers were bracing for the budget to shrink again in 2015 to $2000 per student - or about $3400 once student-paid fees were included - when the government's Smart and Skilled reforms are introduced.
Details have not yet been released, but the Teachers Federation expects $700 million will be slashed from TAFE statewide.
Students would be provided with a "voucher" to pay part of their course fee and they, or their employer, would cover the remainder.
Mr Long said union members had heard of a proposal to reduce electrical trades training in the Illawarra to 24 days next year to meet the new cost pressures.
He said all the talk of meeting budget went against claims by TAFE Illawarra's trades and technology faculty director Marty Burgess, made in the Mercury earlier this week, that changes to electrical trades training were aimed at improving quality.
"It's difficult for us to believe this is only about improved teaching," Mr Long said.
"I'm sure that will be part of it - but to say it has nothing to do with a budget it would seem to be misleading.
"Most of our members are telling us the discussions are about costs to meet the new Smart and Skilled funding regime."
Mr Long said savings would come from reducing the hours offered to part-time and casual teachers, and by reducing support staff hours.
In a statement, a TAFE Illawarra spokeswoman maintained the changes were "as a direct result of the need for greater flexibility and access to new technologies by apprentices".
She added: "Teaching sections are provided with a global budget for the delivery of training to meet industry skill needs and are expected to operate efficiently."
Asked if classroom time would be cut again in 2015, the spokeswoman said: "There are no plans to change the delivery model that has been implemented in 2014".
TAFE Illawarra said training arrangements were negotiated between employers and their apprentices.