TAFE funding cuts: Labor calls for rethink

Illawarra Labor MPs Sharon Bird, Ryan Park and Anna Watson meet with members of the Teachers Federation.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Illawarra Labor MPs Sharon Bird, Ryan Park and Anna Watson meet with members of the Teachers Federation.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Shellharbour MP Anna Watson says cuts to TAFE funding will "rip the guts out" of the education provider in the Illawarra.

Illawarra Labor MPs Sharon Bird, Ryan Park, Stephen Jones and Anna Watson met leaders from the NSW Teachers Federation and the Australian Education Union in Wollongong on Monday to discuss changes to TAFE funding models.

Services, courses, teaching hours and basic facilities have recently been reduced or cut entirely from Illawarra campuses, but enough is enough, according to those on the ground.

"When you lose services like the library or canteen, you lose the viability of the college," said Rob Long of the NSW Teachers Federation, referencing the closure of those basic services at the Dapto campus in 2013.

Mr Long said the incoming Smart and Skilled funding model would see TAFE compete with private education providers for funding dollars.

The Teachers Federation is concerned this will lead to a "cherry picking" of services, stripping away TAFE's ability to offer a rounded education experience.

"They did it in Victoria and the private providers just offered cheap or easy courses, leaving a lot of things behind," Mr Long said. "It means TAFE can't offer a whole experience. Education is not just for learning, it's about a holistic system of support and opportunities you can't get elsewhere."

Ms Watson was even more blunt in her criticism.

"It is a systematic effort to rip apart TAFE in NSW," she said.

The Greens have claimed the NSW Coalition government intends to cut $1.7 billion from the TAFE budget, and slash 800 jobs while raising student fees by 9.5 per cent.

Federal opposition spokeswoman for vocational education Sharon Bird called on the state government to reassess cuts to TAFE funding in the May budget.

"The only ones who train kids and address skills shortages in regional and country areas are TAFE," Ms Bird said.

"Everybody is wringing their hands over youth unemployment, but there needs to be more support for these programs."

Ms Bird will take part in a House of Representatives inquiry into TAFE in Sydney on Tuesday, the same day the first hearing of a Greens-backed Senate inquiry will be held in Wollongong.

Fears for Dapto campus as staff levels reduced

Cuts to Wollongong TAFE have been well publicised but now threats to the survival of the Dapto campus have local MPs and the Teachers Federation on edge.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli revealed last week that 89 staff were currently employed at the Dapto campus, down from 111 in 2010 and 97 in 2013, according to Shellharbour MP Anna Watson.

‘‘These falling numbers at the Dapto TAFE are a direct result of cuts to vocational education and training, and the sacking of TAFE staff across NSW,” Ms Watson said.

Speaking after a meeting with the NSW Teachers Federation and Australian Education Union, Ms Watson was concerned funding to Dapto was falling when the area’s population was set to boom.

‘‘Dapto is one of the fastest growing areas in regional NSW, and the population there is becoming TAFE ready,’’ she said.

‘‘Why rip the guts out of TAFE in an area of high unemployment, where we need jobs?’’

An information technology course offered at Dapto was under threat, with a move to West Wollongong on the cards after the cancellation of a tourism and hospitality course,  the Teachers Federation’s Rob Long said.

Maxine Sharkey, assistant general secretary of the NSW Teachers Federation, said it was important providers such as TAFE offered education services at a local level.

‘‘We’re working with local MPs to keep services in the Illawarra, so people don’t have to go to Sydney to study,’’ she said.


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