There’s no question that we’ve had a bumpier start to 2021 than many of us were hoping. Most of you will have spent 2020 delivering education and training for your students remotely, while others will have continued to deliver face-to-face practical components under incredibly difficult circumstances.
The challenges for TAFE teachers have been immense, and it is testament to your commitment and innovation that you have been able to support students so effectively.
COVID aside, there has been a lot happening in the vocational education space over the past twelve months, at both the state and federal level. The Macklin Review report on ‘Skills for Victoria’s Growing Economy’ was released by Minister for Higher Education Gayle Tierney on 3 February. The government is yet to respond to its recommendations.
The report identifies that the competitive market model has too often pitted providers against each other to deliver courses that generate short-term profit, often at the expense of students and the economy – something the AEU has been saying for many years. The report also recommends that government support a ‘Quality TAFE Network’ and argues for TAFE to have a clear anchor role as a leader in the sector.
Our #RebuildwithTAFE campaign is asking AEU members across all sectors to get behind TAFE, gather community support, and pressure state and federal governments to invest in a sector that is critical to our economic recovery.
Many of the report recommendations could pave the way for further positive reforms in the VET sector and especially for TAFE. However, these recommendations will mean little if the Andrews government is not prepared to act upon them. While we have seen targeted investment in TAFE in Victoria, the underlying competition-based model for VET funding remains in place. This funding model is, quite simply, broken.
The annual Productivity Commission Report on Government Services, released in early February, again showed that Victoria’s VET system is the lowest funded of all states and territories. With the majority of our TAFEs recording deficits in 2019 (before the impact of COVID-19), the state government must introduce a funding model that covers the actual cost of training.
At a time when TAFEs are playing a vital role in supporting the community and helping to repair economies damaged by COVID-19, there is a clear need for a funding model that allows TAFEs to continue to rebuild and ideally to thrive.
With all this at stake, on 17 February the AEU launched a new TAFE campaign in Canberra, #RebuildwithTAFE for a positive future. There is much to be positive about. We know TAFE provides high-quality vocational education that has changed, and continues to change, the lives of millions of Australians. You, our TAFE members, have demonstrated that over and over again throughout the past 12 months.
Our research clearly shows that the community values TAFE highly, while one in three Victorians cite a VET qualification as their highest level of learning. TAFE is perfectly positioned to provide the skills, knowledge, jobs and opportunities for a broad range of Victorians – school leavers, people who have lost their jobs during COVID-19, those seeking to retrain or upskill, and those who might be disadvantaged or need help to get back into the job market.
State government investment such as Free TAFE has been important to many across Victoria, but it is not enough to deliver on Premier Andrews’ promise to ‘save TAFE’. The Morrison federal government – whose latest budget didn’t once even mention the word ‘TAFE’ – has delivered funding cut after funding cut to the sector, across Australia.
Our #RebuildwithTAFE campaign is asking AEU members across all sectors to get behind TAFE, gather community support, and pressure state and federal governments to invest in a sector that is critical to our economic recovery – and central to a strong and sustainable public education system. The high-quality education and training that TAFEs provide deserves government support at every level across the country.
I urge you to get on board – visit rebuildwithTAFE.org.au and sign up as a supporter. We want everyone – you, your students and community members – to share stories about the many ways TAFE has changed lives for the better. This is an important campaign, demanding greater investment in TAFE. Given the possibility of an early federal election later this year, now is a better time than ever to mobilise and to make our politicians act.