TAFE Funding Cuts Now at a “Tipping Point”: VET Expert

Funding cuts to TAFE systems have been highlighted on ABC TV News. Speaking on a national news broadcast on 22 October 2017, Australian vocational education and training (VET) expert Dr Leesa Wheelahan – now based in Canada at the University of Toronto – said:  “We’re at a tipping point right. We can either save TAFE or we’ll lose it.”

Speaking on ABC Radio’s PM program, Professor Wheelahan also said: “We’re going to lose [TAFE] within five years – we are at the point where we can go one way or the other – one way is to lose TAFE, the other is to save TAFE and build it.”

Professor Wheelahan’s comments came following a national conference on the future of TAFE held in Sydney on Friday 20 October, organised by the Australian Education Union, and supported by the John Cain Foundation and the NSW Teachers Federation.

The ABC TV story quoted figures on how the Australian TAFE sector has lost substantial numbers of employees since 2010: 35% in New South Wales, 44% in Victoria, 25% in Queensland and 17% in South Australia.

Responding to Professor Wheelahan’s comments and the ABC news stories, Community Colleges Australia (CCA) CEO Dr Don Perlgut said: “CCA is a strong supporter of a vital and active TAFE as the anchor institution of Australia’s national VET system. Earlier this year, CCA released its policy on TAFE. TAFE plays a particularly important role in training apprentices; in skilling regional, rural and remote Australian communities; and in meeting the needs of special groups such as Indigenous Australians.”

“Community education providers and TAFE have many characteristics in common, given that both operate on a ‘social benefit’ model. Both sectors aim to increase educational participation, work to develop skills as well as to build social capital and resilience within their communities, and are not motivated by providing a financial return to private investors like the private for-profit VET providers,” Dr Perlgut said.

“However, it is important to remember that re-balancing the VET system in Australia cannot and should not be all about just reinvigorating TAFE,” Dr Perlgut said.

“In 2016, some 9 percent of all Australian VET students enrolled with not-for-profit community providers, compared to 17.6% enrolled with TAFE,” Dr Perlgut said. “If Australia is serious about meeting its training needs, supporting the not-for-profit community sector is essential. As an example, look at how our sector performed in delivering government-funded VET training in 2016: more than 70% of our students were regional and remote students, compared to about 35% of TAFE students and 31% of for-profit training providers.’

“If we are serious about addressing the education and training needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians, funding the not-for-profit community sector must sit as an equal priority with TAFE,” Dr Perlgut said.

More details about government-funded VET students can be found at CCA’s report (PDF document).

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