Friday, September 28, 2012

Educate Don’t Decimate

English: TAFE college at Bairnsdale, Victoria
TAFE college at Bairnsdale, Victoria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Jonathan Jackson, 21st Century News:

Education is the lifeblood of this country.

With Australia falling behind the rest of the world’s skills in literacy and numeracy, it is imperative that proper education in a range of fields remains viable.

Yet, State budget cuts in relation to TAFE courses will make vital education untenable.

Victoria’s Holmesglen TAFE’s Moorabbin campus will undergo a transformation that will leave 65 teaching professionals seeking new employment, courses will be cut and students will have to face a 10% increase in fees. The fee hike is the institution’s response to a $28 million budget shortfall, courtesy of the Baillieu government.

TAFE chief executive Bruce McKenzie confirmed cutting courses was “a real possibility”. “There’s a few that we’re looking at and we will have to modify our VCE courses quite a bit,” he said. He also confirmed that Holmesglen was considering buying out State Government ownership of the institution. “If funding keeps getting worse it is something we will have to look at.”

Victoria is not the only State in the gun. In NSW, $80 million and 800 teaching jobs will be cut from TAFE and student fees will increase by 9.5%. An accepted recommendation to the Queensland government would vanquish $78.8 million from training, tertiary education and employment.

The lack of appreciation by State governments for the TAFE sector is astonishing. No other institution offers such a broad range of courses and skills, particularly hands on skills.

Let’s look at some of society’s more basic needs. Plumbing is a public necessity. It is vital to health and infrastructure. It is taught at TAFE in conjunction with employers who are good enough to take on apprentices; apprentices who are paid to do a certain level of work to a particular standard.

Now, take away funding for the plumbing TAFE course and there are less teachers to properly instruct apprentices. There are fewer apprentices available to employers and the apprentices that are available can’t do the job properly, leaving employers to foot the bill for sub-standard work.

In this scenario the infrastructure and economy are widely affected. Plumbing is just one example; what about accountants, bookkeepers and engineers? The list goes on.

TAFE education, indeed any education, should receive more funding - not less.

Southern Metropolitan State Labor MP John Lenders said the Government was “robbing our children of their future.” Federal Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said Victoria was “destroying the TAFE sector.” No doubt, this is just Labor on the attack. However there is some merit to what they say.

A freedom of information request by the opposition, obtained by The Sunday Age, shows the government spent about $150,000 on advice from consulting firm KPMG before cutting funding to TAFEs.

The request found that KPMG’s information prepared on the ”project objectives, scope and approach” had been withheld. This was widely condemned by TAFE directors. Bruce Mackenzie said, ”It’s really quite important for the community perception that they do release that information unless they’ve taken it further than the modelling suggested. I can’t see why they’d keep it secret otherwise.”

In Victoria, the cuts present wide ranging problems. The TAFE Association estimated about 2000 redundancies across TAFE institutes. While many of the current State governments were left with diabolical economic circumstances, the education sector is one sector that must survive funding cuts.

The merging of TAFE colleges is no answer. TAFEs are one of the largest employers in regional or outer metropolitan areas; they focus on community and they serve and important economic and social function, not least by developing skillsets that can’t be taught at traditional universities.

TAFE provides a pathway to professional involvement and development. It contributes to the need for a higher educated workforce and social mobility. It meets social and economic requirements. TAFE is also at the forefront of innovation, future trend and ideas.

To decimate TAFE is to pull at the fabric of Australia’s future and let it unravel. Education is the most important social construct we have. It should be nurtured, not destroyed.
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