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The cost of TAFE cutbacks

The cost of TAFE cutbacks

The State Governments of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have all announced budget cuts to their TAFE systems. How will this affect vocational training in the eastern states?

Cuts to the education and training sector are never a good sign. Many political parties have won an election on the back of a bread-and-butter health and education platform, so it's a brave government indeed that slashes an education budget. It turns out Australia has three brave State Governments: Campbell Newman's in Queensland, Barry O'Farrell's in New South Wales and Ted Baillieu's in Victoria.

Each government has announced that they will be reining in TAFE investment. As a result, Queensland will pull $80 million from the TAFE budget and may close up to 38 campuses, NSW has reduced its spend by $800 million, including funding for 800 jobs, and Victoria has already pulled $300 million from its system.

The effect of these cutbacks is already clear: staff cuts, fewer places for students on campus and higher fees, as well as a pared back selection of courses on offer. A few courses will now only be available at commercial rates, pricing some students out of the market.

What does this mean for prospective students? Due to the reduced number of campus places, it is now more competitive to enrol in a TAFE course, which may disadvantage people without experience or prior qualifications who need the training most. At CoursesNow, where we sell online courses for TAFE NSW, prospective enrolments must be accompanied by a student résumé to ensure serious students (those most likely to finish the course) get the green light over others.

The escalation in fees is not to be ignored either. But this merely takes TAFE from the realm of publicly subsidised education provider to competing with the private sector and, looking at the silver lining, this may be a good thing.

The public service suffers from an unfortunate stereotype, that of bloated bureaucracy and inefficient processes. I won't say this is true of all public services, but it seems there's room for TAFE to tighten up according to the respective governments that have looked at where all that money is going. While I would hate to see TAFE turn into a profit-making venture, there's no shame in a reform that suggests the system employ more streamlined processes and a 'business-like' attitude.

Private VET providers survive because they produce graduates to an acceptable standard for the workforce in a manner that attracts repeat business. Their revenue must outweigh cost for the organisation to remain sustainable. TAFE does the former but at the moment there's a question mark over the latter in the three governments' eyes.

Cutbacks force an organisation to do more with less, so it's certainly one way to shake up the status quo and force efficiency onto the agenda. It's no different from when sales dry up and a business needs to tighten its belt, with the hope that when the good times roll around the leaner infrastructure is there to serve and sustain it.

If these cutbacks can prevent TAFE from privatisation, that is, if the reduced budget is a successful wake-up call to shape up and the only way the institutions can remain publicly funded, then bring it on, I say. The only thing better than publicly funded education is well run publicly funded education that is competitive with private providers.

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