The state budget has failed to adequately address the funding crisis in our public TAFE system, with Victoria still providing the lowest rate per student hour of VET delivery in the country.
The week before the state budget was delivered on 20 May, Skills Minister Gayle Tierney made an early announcement of an overall $383.8 million for skills, training and higher education in 2021–22. We welcomed this investment, which includes $85.9m to establish the Victorian Skills Authority (VSA), a body to act as ‘champion and steward’ of the skills system – one of the key recommendations from the Macklin Report. However, we still await a formal response from government to the report, and the bulk of recommendations for the sector remain unanswered.
The Andrews government recently announced that it was providing “letters of comfort” to five TAFE Institutes, guaranteeing their funding and continued operation. This is little comfort to a sector in which many of our TAFE institutes are struggling to meet the costs of delivery. Free TAFE has been an important initiative – but it’s not enough. TAFE is a central plank in Victoria’s provision of quality public education. The government must review its funding model, address the funding crisis and ensure that the TAFE system can meet the needs of students and the economy.
Further budget announcements included $88.8m for subsided VET courses for eligible students to improve their skills. Also, $14.9m to support placement officers in TAFE to better coordinate practical placements for students, along with an ‘Office of TAFE Coordination and Delivery’ to enhance collaboration across the TAFE network.
Given the number of Victorian workers currently dropping out of apprenticeships, all measures to help TAFE teachers monitor the safety of apprentices in their workplaces and support them to complete their training is essential. Too many unscrupulous employers are more interested in exploiting cheap labour than providing apprentices with the workplace experiences they need.
Predictably, there has been no support for TAFE in the latest budget from the Morrison government. As usual, the federal Coalition neglected to even mention the word ‘TAFE’ in its decision-making. Since 2013, TAFE has suffered over $3 billion in federal funding cuts. These cuts have had a devastating impact on the TAFE system, contributing to its precarious financial position.
The Morrison government argues that it is providing funding to address workplace shortages by helping the unemployed access skills training. However, this is being delivered through an extension of the JobTrainer fund, and by handing out millions of taxpayer dollars to poor-quality private colleges, at the expense of TAFE. It is incumbent upon the Andrews government to fight hard to obtain a decent share of funding for TAFE and to ensure the majority of funding is provided to deliver full and accredited qualifications.