Opinion Pieces

The Baird Government’s so-called Smart and Skilled policy has badly damaged the premier provider of vocational education in Wallsend—Glendale TAFE.

Teachers and students at Glendale TAFE warn that many courses, including Electro Technology Certificate II and III, may be under threat as the Premier continues to subject NSW TAFE to a death by a thousand cuts.

One staff member complained of job losses and a collapse in the provision of Certificate II courses, in their words, “[M]ainly due to the fact that people are required to do ‘job ready’ courses by employment agencies, which [means] Certificate III courses. This is an issue for many as their skills are not at Certificate III level—setting people up to fail.”

This causes a major issue for Electro Technology courses in particular—Electro Technology Certificate III is an apprenticeship course, and if you’re to begin a career in the electro technology sector, you need a Certificate II qualification.

A young constituent complained to my office that trying to find information about this course was difficult, making it hard for him to make long-term plans, particularly when it comes to how he’s going to be able to afford to study in the face of rising fees and the cost of required equipment.

A teacher gave some more detail on this point warning that “[t]he current set of enrolment procedures are very stressful.” Students need a commitment ID before starting class and Smart and Skilled require seven days to check this, meaning enrolments must stop eight days before the course begins—whereas previously enrolments could continue up to the first day of class and often into the first week of teaching. “This has reduced our class numbers—and financial income,” the teacher said.

Of course, this is bigger than one course or one student.

Since 2011, TAFE has been undermined at every turn. Some TAFE campuses have been earmarked for the fire sale this Government considers sound planning for the future.

As the Baird Government empowers private providers, many of whom have been implicated in practices that could be considered problematic at best and outright fraudulent at worst, it’s leaving vulnerable students behind.

A teacher said to me that “more and more students required to do courses in a mixed mode—partly face to face and partly online.” One course, which was run over eighteen months at three hours face to face per week and is now run over twelve months at three hours face to face—with some units needing to be completed online. “Many students doing this course are not confident using computers so support is required… teachers are doing this in their own time,” I was told.

Added to this is the disastrous SALM-EBS IT system, which only serves to add to the workload of stressed and overworked TAFE employees—when it works at all. “EBS is a constant stress,” one teacher said.

TAFE, has successfully provided affordable and accessible education for all, yet the Baird government claims it needs to be more “flexible”, more “competitive”. A TAFE teacher gave a succinct rebuttal to this argument, saying “Staff are already flexible and prepared to work above and beyond in order to provide the best we can for students.”

As that staff member pointed out, further attacks on staff and conditions may destroy good will between staff and TAFE. In their words, “If everyone worked to rule, TAFE would not be able to respond to training needs.”

It is time for the Baird Government to do the right thing and properly support TAFE staff and students, restoring funding and reining in the runaway private sector—our young people deserve better.