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TAFE cuts - and fightback - happen under the radar

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by Louisa L.

In November, Pat Forward of the Australian Education Union asked the question, “What is at stake when Australia's private vocational colleges implode?”

She illustrated her answer using Vocation Ltd, which faces a class action by shareholders and has been forced to pay back almost $20 million in subsidies to the Victorian Government because the training it provided was substandard.

Ms Forward stated, “On its public listing twelve months ago, Vocation Ltd.’s owners withdrew $225 million in clear profit in the same year that Victorian TAFEs had a further $212 million cut from their funding. Vocation's profits came exclusively from the Victorian public purse.

“But it is likely that this is only one example of many. The ASQA’s (Australian Skills Authority) annual report for 2013/14 found that 75% of RTOs (Registered Training Organisations) failed to meet basic training and assessment standards, and that 21% still could not do so after being given a chance to improve. Add to that the widespread reports of the activities of some providers as they attempt to entice students - many of them some of the most disadvantaged in our community - into enrolling in courses of dubious value at exorbitant cost.

“This is not what the proponents of privatising vocational training told us would happen. These providers are not trying to compete on quality, innovation or value. They are simply trying to exploit the funding system to boost their profits,” Ms Forward wrote.

For Ms Forward, TAFE “one of Australia's most trusted education institutions” is “crucial to a fair and just society”, but is being destroyed to benefit “voracious profit-driven private colleges”     The  destruction, she writes, is “under the radar”.

Little victories
NSW has faced big cuts to jobs and courses, even before the so-called Smart and Skilled policy decimating TAFE in Victoria and SA. But small battles happen under the radar too.

Geoff Turnbull is NSW Teachers Federation Vice President and a head teacher at Randwick TAFE in Sydney's eastern suburbs. Earlier in the year he was told that two HSC teachers who had been made redundant would exit the Institute in July. 

For a teacher that's unimaginable. How could anyone abandon students just a term before their exams? No problem. Bring in casuals, even though they mightn't have expertise for the specific topics studied or know any of the students. That was the plan. So Geoff told his bosses that he would refuse to employ any part-time casuals to take up the HSC classes. And that he wasn't going to be quiet about it. 

They backed down. Yes the teachers will still lose their jobs, but not only were they given a reprieve till the HSC, but their final day of service was 28 November. Four months’ pay is better than a kick in the teeth. This little victory lets those students and teachers know that they were valued enough for others to take a stand with their backing.

Alongside the public campaigning, these little victories on the job make it harder for the corporate giants, who aim to profit from TAFE's destruction, to get it all their own way.

Immediate and long term solutions
Pat Forward states, “The immediate solution is simple and cost effective. Serious limits must be imposed on how much public funding is open to this shoddy market. This would not cost governments a single cent.”

With hundreds of million dollars at stake, she called for standards to be developed and enforced through a well-resourced regulator before allocating more funds, plus a ban on outsourcing training to unregistered third parties.

These immediate demands shape a way forward. But capitalism's compulsion to ever-increasing profits will mean that reversing privatisation will not be easy. Meanwhile the knowledge that capitalism destroys the lives of ordinary people grows in many more minds. Getting rid of that system is a much longer term struggle.

Read Ms Forward's article at:


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