Grafton TAFE students joined organiser Kathy Nicholson, Greens NSW MLC John Kaye and federal Greens senator Lee Rhiannon to protest cuts to TAFE services earlier this month.
Grafton TAFE students joined organiser Kathy Nicholson, Greens NSW MLC John Kaye and federal Greens senator Lee Rhiannon to protest cuts to TAFE services earlier this month. Adam Hourigan

TAFE teachers fear for their jobs

TAFE teachers afraid of losing their jobs have gone incognito to argue for better work conditions and an end to funding cuts.

Following protests at the Grafton and Trenyr campuses earlier this month, dozens of students and teachers told a parliamentary inquiry of the decline of the TAFE sector in NSW before a call for submissions closed on August 14.

The vast majority of educators chose for their names to be suppressed.

"I would like to also mention that I wrote the Minister for Education earlier this year expressing my dismay," explained a part-time teacher of more than 15 years.

"His response to this letter was to send a copy of the letter to the institute director, so I could be reprimanded."

The teacher went on to say high course fees had forced students to give up on their education or simply not enrol.

"Consequently our student numbers have dropped dramatically and our buildings at TAFE are empty (and it's like being in a morgue)."

The State Government's introduction of private sector training providers through its Smart and Skilled reforms was heavily criticised, despite TAFE NSW managing director Pam Christie's acknowledgment last year that "we won't survive - or at least not thrive and survive in the future" without transformation. Another submitter wrote the government should heed Einstein's famous quote that insanity was "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

"This situation has arisen despite the fact that other states such as South Australia and Victoria, which entered into identical restructurings of their own VET systems several years before NSW, are now scrambling in response to try to repair the damage done to their own TAFE networks," the letter stated.

"And yet NSW chose to eventually follow the same defective pathway, forewarned with the knowledge of the disastrous outcomes evident in the other states' TAFE systems."

The state's budget papers in June revealed TAFE enrolments fell by more than 30,000 this year, with 2500 or more staff losing their jobs since 2012.

TAFE is expected to have to compete with private sector training providers for 33.3% of the total vocational education and training budget in 2015-16, up from 27% last financial year.

All 84 of the submissions to the inquiry were critical of the Smart and Skilled reforms.

The daughter of the former assistant director of TAFE Hugh King, who was credited as a seminal contributor to the system's foundation, said the reforms had given unscrupulous for-profit training providers a foot in the door.

"My father would turn in his grave if he knew of this shift to private fee-charging providers with dubious quality of training," Louise Stammers said.

During the Grafton protest, Greens NSW MP John Kaye said his party held very real concerns about the future of regional TAFE colleges due to the implementation of the "Smart and Skilled" regime.

"While the cuts haven't bitten as hard on the North Coast as they have elsewhere, we're beginning to see courses being shortened, students pushed into inappropriate online learning and fewer courses available," Mr Kaye said.

"With Trenayr effectively being closed at the end of this year, we see that as the beginning of the end for small regional campuses and Grafton itself will be next in the firing line."

A final report on TAFE's future is due in November.



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