The future of Dapto TAFE remains in doubt after the teachers union failed to get confirmation the campus would have students enrolled next semester.
Teachers Federation TAFE organiser Rob Long, who had a tense meeting with Illawarra TAFE representatives on Wednesday, said there were hopes, but no guarantees, of reopening classrooms.
The meeting came as enrolment forecasts across all TAFE Illawarra campuses for 2015 show a fall of around 8 per cent, although a spokesman for the institute said this was underpinned by a wider strategy ‘‘to increase enrolments in longer, higher level qualifications’’.
Enrolments were up 35 per cent for aged care and children’s services, and 44 per cent in building services, he said.
Mr Long said the capability to increase student numbers was positive, but dramatic funding cuts meant numbers had dropped in foundation studies such as basic numeracy and literacy.
Huge fee increases due to the Smart and Skilled structure implemented in January had seen students ‘‘walk away from increased debt’’, he said.
‘‘[It’s] a failure and doesn’t work, it didn’t work in Victoria so it’s not going to work in NSW,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s cutting the number of students and not giving the skills they require – not just for younger people but particularly people being made redundant.
‘‘This is going to be a really critical issue if there are to be any further cuts in the steel industry, for people who will need to retrain.’’
In Tuesday’s state budget, the government conceded that the new policy had driven away students, saying enrolments ‘‘reflect a lower than expected market response to Smart and Skilled reforms in the transitional stage since its start in January’’.
The NSW upper house has launched an inquiry into TAFE, with public submissions being taken until August 14, 2015.
Greens MP John Kaye said the whole system was on ‘‘the brink of collapse’’ and believed the reduction in student enrolments in the Illawarra was ‘‘the beginning of a de-skilling of an entire region’’.
‘‘Smart and Skilled has robbed TAFE across NSW of 7.3 per cent of its secure budget and the managers of the Illawarra TAFE are responding by cutting courses, reducing contact hours, and pushing staff out the door,’’ he said.
‘‘A strong TAFE system is the best chance of rescuing the blast furnace and maintaining steel manufacture in the Illawarra but if that doesn’t happen TAFE is going to be critical to protecting the region from a long and devastating recession. Only by building new skills and economic opportunities can the Illawarra escape a downward economic spiral.’’