AFTER raising three children, Warilla's Bettina Purdie is keen to get back into the workforce and thought she'd found her calling after enrolling in a fine arts course at TAFE.
But she has been devastated by this week's announcement that the NSW government will no longer subsidise many TAFE NSW fine arts courses from next year.
Without the subsidies, the annual fees for courses including sculpture, visual arts and ceramics will rise dramatically - a diploma course which now costs $1308 per year could cost up to $5000 under the new fee-for-service system.
"I started studying arts in Victoria last year and the Victorian system has already received a lot of cuts and it was just a disaster," Ms Purdie said.
"Now the NSW government is going down the same path and it's going to be very difficult for me to continue with my qualifications next year.
"My husband has not been able to find stable work since we moved here, and now it looks like I won't be able to get the skills I need to pursue a career either."
Hannah Bradbery, 18, and Zoe Rayne, 19, are also doing the Certificate IV in Fine Arts at West Wollongong TAFE and say they will not be able to afford to continue next year.
"My passion is photography but this is going to prevent me from getting the skills needed for a career in that area," Ms Bradbery said.
Ms Rayne added: "I came to TAFE because I couldn't afford to go to uni, but with fees like these you may as well be paying uni fees."
TAFE Illawarra management said fee details for these courses would be released when programs were finalised.
The institute's fine arts students have banded together to send emails to their local MPs and will hold an "arts therapy" meeting in Wollongong's Crown Street Mall next Thursday.
Save TAFE Illawarra spokeswoman Kate Morris said students were also planning fundraisers to help students continue their studies next year.
The NSW government has argued that the changes to TAFE, which include 9.5 per cent fee hikes for government-subsided courses, are designed to ensure "TAFE is operating efficiently, remains competitive and training is focused in areas of jobs growth".
However, Terry Keeley, NSW Teachers Federation TAFE organiser for the Illawarra, said fine arts course graduates enjoyed careers in a range of areas including education, graphic design and photography.
"What the government is trying to do is pick winners and losers - they argue that these courses are just hobby courses," he said.