Now, more than ever, investing in TAFE is an investment in Australia’s future. We need a federal government ready and prepared to back our crucial vocational education sector.
Liberal governments have an inexcusable record of neglect when it comes to supporting our essential public TAFE system. Since taking office in 2013, the federal Coalition has cut $3 billion from vocational education, causing a dramatic drop in the number of courses and apprenticeships, driving down quality and limiting access across Australia.
New data released in March highlights the impact of the Morrison government’s failure to support TAFE, with entrenched under-funding leading to excessive workloads for staff and greater uncertainty for students.
In the AEU’s latest State of our TAFEs survey, 65% of teachers report that their workload is unmanageable more than half of the time. The shift to online delivery during the pandemic greatly intensified the demands on TAFE teachers, with little recognition by institutional managers of the extra time and effort required to deliver courses alongside providing pastoral care for students.
Of the 1,563 members who responded, 64% were expected to teach the same content in fewer and fewer hours, and 83% say their institution has closed courses in the past three years, most commonly due to a lack of funding. As a result, 80% do not believe current students are receiving the same quality of education as they did two years ago.
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says the “damning” report shows the “enormous strain from a decade of funding cuts perpetrated by the Morrison government.
“We have TAFE teachers working excessive workloads under increasingly difficult conditions, grappling with larger class sizes and being expected to deliver content within slashed teaching hours,” she says. “The Morrison government has pursued a relentless privatisation agenda, increasing the amount of low-quality private training providers at great cost to TAFE.”
Students pay the price, with courses cut, TAFE campuses closed, and a race to the bottom in terms of delivery hours.
In Victoria, despite recent investment by the Andrews Labor government, TAFE institutes are still not funded at a rate that covers the basic cost of course delivery, let alone the additional support services that play such an important role in enabling students to complete their training.
The current ‘contestable funding model’ means public TAFEs are still forced to compete with private providers for government funding. This model has turned VET into a virtual cash-cow for private trainers, leading to widespread rorts by some unscrupulous registered training organisations (RTOs) receiving public money to run low-quality courses.
In one year alone, the federal government had to wipe out $500 million in bad debts due to VET funding rorts by dodgy RTOs – and yet, the Liberal party persists with its privatisation agenda.
Students pay the price, with courses cut, TAFE campuses closed, and a race to the bottom in terms of delivery hours. But employers and the economy also suffer, especially at a time when the demand for vocational education is at an all-time high due to critical skills shortages in many industries.
With hundreds of campuses across Australia, TAFE is perfectly positioned to provide the high-quality skills needed to meet workforce demands. Not only does TAFE help prepare students for future employment, ensure businesses have access to an expertly trained workforce and help address skills gaps, the sector also contributes an estimated $92.5 billion to our economy every year.
As a federal election looms, there is an urgent need for all members to get behind the AEU’s national campaign, ‘Rebuild with TAFE’. It is imperative that state and federal governments recognise that the competitive system of VET funding is broken – and develop a funding policy that supports public TAFE to deliver the high-quality, accessible vocational education that our economy relies on.
Albanese’s Labor Opposition has promised to introduce 465,000 free TAFE places, $50 million for new facilities and equipment, and a guaranteed 70% of total government funding for TAFE if elected. Labor’s skills policy meets the demands of the AEU’s long-standing calls for the restoration of funding and support for TAFE, giving voters a clear choice at the ballot box in May.