Some Illawarra and South Coast TAFE campuses could be forced to close under the NSW Government's Smart and Skilled reforms according to NSW TAFE Teachers Federation Illawarra organiser Terry Keeley.
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli yesterday announced the reforms to the state's vocational education and training (VET) system, which will mean government funding will be no longer guaranteed for TAFE courses from 2014.
Instead TAFE NSW institutes will be forced to compete with private training providers for students, with the funding going to whichever college gets the thumbs up.
"This reform will make it easier for people to take up training, giving them more choice over training and the training organisation that best meets their needs," Mr Piccoli said.
However Mr Keeley said increased competition could result in the closure of campuses, particularly in regional and remote areas.
"How will some of the smaller regional campuses be able to survive in this environment - especially coming on top of $1.7 billion cuts to public education which includes 800 job losses at TAFE NSW," he said.
"The Illawarra institute, especially campuses down the Far South Coast and up in the Southern Highlands, will really struggle and are in danger of disappearing altogether.
"We are really concerned about the loss of these services, particularly in a community like Wollongong which has one of the highest youth unemployment figures in the state.
"In the Illawarra, where large employers have retrenched their workers and they're looking for retraining - what will the impact of the loss of these courses, these teachers, these programs be?"
Mr Keeley said despite previous assurances from the NSW Government, it was introducing a similar VET funding model as Victoria where the results had been an "absolute disaster".
"Victoria opened the VET sector to competitive tendering in 2009 and as a result student fees and charges have tripled, ferocious 'for-profit' providers have doubled and the TAFE share of the VET sector has fallen from 75 per cent to 48 per cent in the past three years," he said. "And the NSW Government wants to introduce a similar system in this state."
"The opportunity for greater autonomy to manage our business locally will enable us to build on our established strengths and play a key role in delivering training that meets the needs of our regional communities," a TAFE Illawarra spokesperson said.
."TAFE Illawarra has strong relationships with employers and businesses across our region and we understand the importance of working with local businesses and communities on long-term strategies for sustainable economic growth in rural and regional areas."
For Illawarra's private training providers the reforms will mean a chance to get government funding, and South Coast Academy of Beauty Therapy director Tina McGirr welcomed that.
"We've been providing quality training for over 16 years in the Illawarra, and we do find that it's sometimes an uphill battle trying to compete with TAFE, as they have the monopoly on the training market as they get their courses subsidised," she said.
"I do think we need TAFE, but these reforms put all training providers on an equal playing field.
"We've worked hard to build up our reputation in the beauty industry and have high quality educators, small class sizes and excellent facilities.
"Why shouldn't we be able to compete for funding too, so some of our students can get their course fees subsidised?"