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'Fraught with danger': Warnings over TAFE cuts to vulnerable care courses

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All subsidised childcare, aged care and disability courses will be cut from TAFE SA’s metro campuses from next year – forcing students to study with private providers – while doubts have been raised about the authenticity of several “new” courses announced by management.

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TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman wrote to staff last week telling them of changes for 2021, after InDaily revealed concerns from the Australian Education Union that up to 50 per cent of courses were at risk.

Coltman advised staff that 20 courses would be scrapped from metro campuses next year, which unions representing lecturers and administration staff believe are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Trainees and apprentices will still be able to access some of the courses but there will be no places going forward for students.

The courses will still be offered in regional areas and students currently enrolled at metro campuses will be able to complete their studies.

Coltman also announced 21 new course offerings from next year but the unions claim only six will actually be new – the rest, they say, are merely updated versions of existing courses, which is a mandated requirement.

Among the cuts are all subsidised childcare, disability and aged care offerings, angering the Australian Education Union and Public Service Association.

“If courses that train people to provide essential social and community services are left for the private sector to run, we’ll see an increase in costs to students and a reduction in quality,” PSA assistant general secretary Natasha Brown told InDaily.

“There’s no shortage of evidence highlighting the failings of private Registered Training Organisations delivering critical community services, especially where they affect our most vulnerable.”

Brown said we needed “strong investment” in TAFE, “not more cuts to courses in the hope that the private sector will pick them up”.

“TAFE is continuing with the provision of these courses in the regions, so (the Education Minister) needs to explain why they are being cut in metropolitan areas where demand is higher,” she said.

Handing the responsibility for community health and wellbeing to the private sector is fraught with danger

Australian Education Union state president Lara Golding told InDaily it was “essential to ensure that high standards of care are maintained for the most vulnerable in our community”.

“Handing the responsibility for community health and wellbeing to the private sector is fraught with danger,” she said.

“Privatising vocational education and training leads to higher costs for students, poorer quality courses and less accountability to the people who rely on essential services.”

The AEU and PSA are seeking an urgent meeting with Education Minister John Gardner “so he can explain why the cuts are necessary and what will be done to ensure TAFE staff are supported”.

There’s all that knowledge that will be lost to the sector

Carrie Johnson, director of Seaton Community Children’s Centre, has worked in the industry for more than 30 years and told InDaily the cuts to childcare courses “will be a loss to the sector”.

“My concern would be what that impact has on the quality of the work-readiness of students that are completing their qualifications elsewhere,” she said.

Johnson said while it depends on the individual student, she has found generally that TAFE graduates are “more job ready”.

“We’ve generally found that TAFE students come out with those employability skills, especially around documentation for children,” she said.

“They understand what the quality is, they understand the cycle of planning.

“I’m not in favour of the TAFE cuts. There’s all that knowledge that will be lost to the sector.”

Johnson said the bulk of her staff were TAFE-qualified.

Tammy Headon is a mature-age student and mother-of-three who has just completed her Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care – one of the TAFE courses that will be axed.

She was hoping to go on and complete a Diploma at TAFE but will now be unable to.

“It’s very disappointing,” she told InDaily.

“You’ll lose a lot of experience.

“I haven’t heard good reports about the quality of education being provided (elsewhere) and I’ve heard a lot of it is online.”

Headon says she wouldn’t have been able to study childcare at all if she’d been forced to go through a private provider because it would have been too expensive.

TAFE student Tammy Headon with her son Max
Photo supplied

Opposition education spokesman Blair Boyer said it “really beggars belief”.

“I think it raises the question about what TAFE’s place is in the future if this government doesn’t think there’s a role for them to offer courses in areas as important as early childcare, disability and ageing,” he said.

“When we read the fine print we find out this – that the new courses aren’t new, they are just updated courses.”

It’s unclear how many staff will be affected by the changes.

Boyer said he was hearing “mass panic” from people in the TAFE sector.

“Their concern is the area they are working in is about to be cut,” he said.

Golding said she was still hearing that up to 50 per cent of courses could go but Coltman insists “there is no intent to cut 50 per cent of courses”.

“There will always be fluctuation in the number of courses we offer as demand from industry and students is assessed,” he said.

“We are planning to deliver the same volume of hours in 2021 as this year.”

He said TAFE SA was “pivoting” its training next year “to support and respond to the changing needs of South Australian industries and the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 has created”.

“TAFE SA is committing to increase delivery to regional and remote communities across South Australia,” he said.

“We will be providing a core range of entry level pathway courses at all campuses as well as an additional suite of online courses that will be supported by the introduction of student study hubs.”

Coltman said the new courses to be offered in 2021 “include new versions of courses or course upgrades” designed to meet new industry requirements.

“TAFE SA regularly reviews which courses are offered to ensure our course profile is aligned to the needs for the state’s current and future jobs,” he said.

As well as childcare, disability and ageing, the other course cuts are in areas including business, accounting and human resources.

The “new” courses listed by Coltman in his memo to staff are in areas including water industry operations, mining exploration, civil construction, laser hair reduction, Auslan and animal technology.

Gardner said he had “every confidence” TAFE would continue to be a strong public training provider “that plays an important role in training South Australians as we recover from the economic effects of the pandemic, including supporting critical future industries such as defence and cyber”.

“After the significant challenges that TAFE faced under the former Labor government, it is staggering that the union(s) continue to seek to undermine the good work that TAFE has undertaken to get itself on the right trajectory,” he said.

Innovation and Skills Minister David Pisoni said the government went to the last election “promising contestability” in the vocational education and training sector.

“This policy and additional funding has delivered nation-leading growth in apprenticeships and traineeships,” he said.

Pisoni said jobs in the education and training sector were “among the fastest growing in SA”.

“The social care sector is growing strongly and the childcare sector will require many more quality people with the skills needed through vocational education and training pathways,” he said.

Pisoni said the Marshall Government had invested $80 million more in skills training in the past two years compared to Labor’s last two years in office.

“We’re partnering with industry to deliver paid training opportunities in the care sector, including childcare, and the industry connections of the non-government sector have contributed to South Australia’s nation-leading skills training growth,” he said.

“The AEU was silent when the previous government reduced one third of TAFE’s staff, closed campuses and left TAFE SA in crisis – they must stop talking down the vocational education and training sector and get behind the State Government’s nation-leading skills reforms.

“The reality is quality childcare training will continue to be delivered by the Marshall Government.”

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