Jeff Gunningham quit in 2014 after a year at the helm of the State Government-owned statutory corporation, citing “personal reasons”. However, InDaily can reveal he wrote to Premier Jay Weatherill as recently as September to express his concerns about the emerging scandal, revealing his resignation was also “strongly influenced by concerns over the governance structure of TAFE SA”.
He said Peter Vaughan – TAFE SA’s inaugural chair appointed by former Skills Minister Tom Kenyon in 2012 and sacked this week at the request of incumbent minister Susan Close – was “made aware of these concerns”.
“I have repeatedly stated that the quality of TAFE SA activities will suffer as a consequence of significantly reduced funding and the lack of genuine autonomy for the TAFE SA board,” Gunningham wrote.
The letter, which was originally earmarked “in absolute confidence”, has been released to InDaily by the Government, with Gunningham’s permission.
“As a former CEO of TAFE SA I am extremely concerned about the adverse audit findings by ASQA (the Australian Skills Quality Authority) as well as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority… what has happened at TAFE SA is disturbing and the board should be held to account,” he wrote.
“I strongly believe the board of TAFE SA has to accept responsibility for much that has transpired at TAFE SA in the past few years.”
The quality of TAFE training in South Australia has been under increasing scrutiny after CASA found this year that an aviation maintenance course offered by TAFE SA had failed to meet training and assessment standards. That finding led to the suspension of the course and some parts of the licences of about 80 aircraft maintenance engineers.
This week, ASQA suspended enrolments in 14 other TAFE courses after finding major problems with all 16 targeted by a random audit. It says it is considering a broader audit of TAFE SA courses, and Close has also expressed concern that the problems might be widespread.
Gunningham said the SA board was “the highest paid of any TAFE board in Australia”, with its members earning “much more than [those of] most statutory authorities”.
Members of the board are paid $47,000 a year, with the chair garnering $85,000.
The former CEO noted he was “surprised to see TAFE SA so well represented” in the taskforce set up by Close in September to respond to the ASQA concerns and examine TAFE SA’s “self-auditing” program.
The taskforce included Gunningham’s successor, then-CEO Robin Murt – who stood down this week – as well as other TAFE SA board members.
“With the CEO and board members on this taskforce, I’m not sure you will get the independent view you are seeking,” Gunningham told the Premier in a submission made via his department’s online feedback portal.
He offered to assist the review “in whatever way you feel is appropriate”.
However, he says the Government has not responded to his offer.
Former chairman Peter Vaughan has not responded to InDaily’s inquiries about Gunningham’s assertions.
Today, the Premier appeared to play down the problems.
While Close suggested yesterday that she feared the quality issues were endemic in TAFE, Weatherill said “today’s issues are about the assessment of competencies in basically 14 courses out of the 1300 or so that occur down there at TAFE”.
“There have been some deficiencies in the assessment and we’re working through that and we’ll make sure that those students are protected, they get their qualifications and any losses that they suffer will be properly met,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide’s breakfast program.
When pressed about Close’s comments yesterday, Weatherill said the issue was that the minister could no longer have confidence in assurances from the now removed chairman of the TAFE board and the chief executive.
“…. of course she can’t sensibly rule out that it isn’t a broader issue because she’s lost confidence in the people that have actually been giving her the assurances.”
He rejected suggestions that the community had lost confidence in the minister.
“She’s acted assertively and appropriately when the information was given to her by an independent authority.”
Close has announced a review of TAFE SA headed by corporate consultancy firm Nous.
The Opposition wants Parliament recalled so it can examine the issue.
“The students of TAFE SA who have been denied the qualifications they have studied for deserve a comprehensive examination of how this fiasco came about and how it can be fixed,” said Liberal deputy leader Vickie Chapman.
“These students need to know how the Weatherill Government will rectify their faulty qualifications. These students deserve to know exactly what compensation the Weatherill Government is offering them.”
– additional reporting by David Washington
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