TAFE staff warned over advice to disabled on cutbacks

The Senate TAFE inquiry at City Beach function centre on Friday. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

The Senate TAFE inquiry at City Beach function centre on Friday. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Illawarra TAFE management has told staff to "be very careful" what they tell deaf and disabled students about dwindling access to aides and other resources, as the students could claim discrimination and sue.

Teachers at a Senate inquiry into the TAFE system in Wollongong on Friday delivered a damning appraisal of the effects of the state government's incoming vocational education regime, Smart and Skilled.

The changes, under which TAFEs will compete with private providers for students in an open training market, will be introduced from December, but are already starting to bite, according to teachers.

Government subsidies will also be limited to courses in priority industry areas.

Friday's inquiry heard:

- A flagged 10 per cent loading for students with a disability would not cover the cost of providing an interpreter and note taker to a deaf student for a single class.

- There were concerns private colleges would "cherry pick" students, leaving TAFE to teach students with the most costly and complex needs.

- TAFE special needs consultants were spending so much time preparing for their reduced budgets they were struggling to find time to do their jobs.

- Deaf and physically disabled students midway through their courses were unaware of how the funding changes would affect their studies, or their ability to pay for them.

Illawarra TAFE student Brad Nakken, 21, addressed the inquiry from his mobility chair.

He already has a certificate in web design and hopes to complete a certificate in graphic design this year, and a diploma-level course next year, in a bid to stand out when he takes his resume to the job market.

Under the incoming reforms, fees for diploma-level courses would no longer be waived or heavily subsidised for students with a disability.

Mr Nakken has been told he could be asked to pay fees of between $10,000 and $15,000.

"It means I would not be able to get the support I need for me to continue to do my studies and get my certificate, and then I may not be able to get work," he said.

Wollongong TAFE Federation representative Lorraine Watson told the inquiry TAFE Illawarra management had advised staff to "be very careful" with the information they gave to disabled and deaf students, some of whom had already been denied access to aides such as note-takers.

She said management had told staff this was because students could claim they had been discriminated against, and take their accusations to court.

Ms Watson said there was scarce concrete information about how the reforms would affect course fees and the ability of special needs consultants to cater for the needs of charges.

"Our managers can't answer the questions. Our managers' managers can't answer the questions."

She said she expected the changes would be felt sharply among older people attempting to return to TAFE to retrain, as second courses would no longer be subsidised.

"That would apply to anybody who's [doing a] second course, and that would apply even to people with disability."

Ms Watson told the inquiry people retraining after injury would be particularly hard hit.

Julie Tait, a deaf consultant and interpreter based at TAFE's South Western Sydney Institute, said she expected the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme to bring a "flood" of new students with complex needs to TAFE's door.

Ms Tait said TAFE management had asked if students would bring their own interpreter, provided under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

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