This year’s AEU Federal Conference resolved to continue its campaigning for public education, to meet the needs of our members, our schools, early childhood settings and TAFE colleges and the communities we serve.
The focus of these campaigns will be issues such as workload, attacks on professional autonomy, salaries and career structures, and national reform agreements.
This campaign work continues at both the national and state level. Both levels of government are currently focusing on the importance of vocational education, but with very different agendas. The Andrews government currently has a major review underway, headed by Jenny Macklin, with a report expected later this year. The initial discussion paper has a strong focus on TAFE being at the centre of the vocational education system. At the federal level, the Productivity Commission interim report on skills is pushing for the continued privatisation of the system, and the need for a new student loan system, despite both being discredited after years of rorting and poor quality provision by unscrupulous private for-profit providers.
If we are in any doubt about the federal Coalition government’s attitude towards public TAFE, we only need to look at its record since being elected in 2013. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices, $3 billion cut from vocational education, a dramatic decline in VET enrolments overall, and a national decline in TAFE enrolments of 24.5%.
Investment in TAFE must be seen as a public good – the value to the community and to the economy is clear
Our experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic have clearly highlighted the flaws of privatised systems, including in the vocational sector. As I stated on National TAFE Day, never before has there been a more important time to invest in public TAFE. In fact, investment in public entities is sorely needed across many sectors, as the gaps in quality provision have been exposed for all to see.
Investment in TAFE must be seen as a public good – the value to the community and to the economy is clear, and yet the Productivity Commission, private providers and the federal government are advocating for further market reforms to increase contestability and privatisation of the VET sector. Governments that continue to rely on failed competition-based policies, which drive privatisation and profit ahead of the public good, are failing our community and will not produce the highly skilled and qualified workforce needed now or in the future.
The AEU TAFE campaign is focused on putting TAFE at the centre of a recovery from COVID-19. We know that TAFE provides high-quality vocational education across all levels of qualifications, with nationally accredited programs, long-standing industry links, a highly qualified and experienced workforce of professional teachers, and a national network of campus infrastructure.
Hundreds of thousands of Victorians and over a million Australians have lost their jobs during this pandemic. If we are to rebuild Australia’s economy and workforce, a clear and strongly supported national workforce strategy is required. A true strategy for workforce renewal can only be achieved through national support for TAFE, and by making use of TAFE’s longstanding partnerships with industry. TAFE contributes an estimated $92.5 billion to the economy each year, many more times that of its annual funding. As Federal AEU president Correna Haythorpe stated on National TAFE Day this year, “TAFE has made a huge contribution to Australia’s economic prosperity, despite years of what can only be described as policy vandalism of the vocational education sector.”
We know that TAFE is the trusted provider in the community. The AEU’s work in highlighting the tangible benefits of TAFE to our community and economy will be instrumental to ensuring that governments do not jeopardise the economic and social benefits that investment in public TAFEs will bring.
We have been campaigning for TAFE for many years, but the current moment brings great opportunities for us to celebrate the work of TAFE and to build on community trust to help ensure that TAFE is funded appropriately to deliver the much-needed education and training our community needs, particularly as governments plan to rebuild our economies. TAFE must be at the centre of that plan if we are to have the skilled workforce needed for the future.