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Confusion and mixed messaging over TAFE course costs

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An Adelaide father has called for greater clarity from education authorities after he was wrongly led to believe his son would be denied a subsidy and forced to pay $34,000 to study at TAFE if he applied while still at school.

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Ben Cox has endured months of confusion and mixed messaging from TAFE SA and the Department of Innovation and Skills in trying to get answers for his 16-year-old son Harvey, who wants to study surveying when he finishes school next year.

Cox said initial information showed his son would have to pay a total of $7000-$8000 in fees to study a certificate and then diploma in surveying at TAFE, after finishing Year 12.

When he looked at TAFE’s website again, he said the listed cost of the courses had jumped to a combined $34,000 ($14,000 for the certificate and $20,000 for the diploma).

“Going from a course that in total would have cost us less than $10,000 to a nearly $35,000 debt is just insane,” Cox said.

“I thought ‘that’s just going to push us out of the ballpark’, to be honest. $34,000 over two years is a fair whack.”

The concerned father made further inquiries to find out “if there had been a misprint or why it had changed so dramatically”.

“The call centre person told me that the subsidy had been removed for a lot of the construction industry type courses,” he said.

“I found that really, really strange – that during a period where the State Government was trying to encourage all these construction projects to boost employment, that they would be taking away the subsidy for training in those exact same industries.”

After further phone calls, he says authorities told him the subsidy was had been reinstated – but that school students weren’t eligible.

“The response that I got from the call centre was that the government is trying to provide an opportunity for people who have left school and are out of work to get access to TAFE training,” Cox said.

“So the subsidy applied to those people and not to anyone else.

“I said to (the call centre operator), ‘Say for example, if we enrol in October or earlier when enrolments are due, does that mean we will have to pay the full fee?’ And she said, ‘Yes’.

“I said, ‘If we leave it till after he finishes school, he won’t have to pay the full fee – it will be subsidised?’ And she said, ‘Yes’.

“But that’s after the enrolment date closes I’m guessing. And it puts us at risk of missing out on a place.

“She said he can be finished school for a day and then enrol because he’s finished school and he’s not working.”

Cox explained his son would be finished school by the time the course started, but says he was told his son would have to wait until he had finished school to even apply for the course if he wanted to receive the subsidy.

“The lady told me that if my son was at school and still had some assignments to pass in and he enrolled into Surveying… we would have to pay the full amount,” he said.

InDaily submitted questions about the claims to TAFE SA, Education Minister John Gardner and Innovation and Skills Minister David Pisoni.

In a statement, TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman said Year 12 students were able to apply for courses for the following year as soon as applications opened, which was usually early August.

“The family will be able to determine their eligibility for a Government subsidised training program before they submit their application,” he said.

“TAFE SA, and other government funded providers, will provide plenty of time for applicants to apply for courses. Offers will be made against the published selection criteria from December.”

Coltman said “eligibility for subsidies can be determined at any time”.

“The subsidy eligibility process is a step-by-step process that can be completed through the TAFE SA website,” he said.

“This process includes selecting if at the time you will be undertaking your study in the TAFE SA course whether you will be enrolled in school, enrolled in school and undertaking training through the Training Guarantee for SACE Students (TGSS), or undertaking training through a training contract as an apprentice or trainee.

“These factors are used to determine future eligibility.

“Offers for courses are processed from December for the following year’s course commencements.”

Coltman said there was an “initial time period” where the subsidy was not listed under the course on TAFE’s website.

“However as soon as the course was approved for subsidised training, the website was immediately updated,” he said.

Cox said he had since been told by TAFE SA that Harvey would in fact be able to apply for the course mid-way through Year 12 when applications opened and that it was likely he would be eligible for the subsidy “once he completes school”.

“Having been told a couple of different things over the last couple of months I hope this is the right information that we have received now,” he said.

Cox called for greater clarity so that other students and families aren’t put off like his nearly was.

“It sounds as though the department is not talking to their training providers, or vice versa,” he said.

“I think they need to consult better with each other between the department and providers as to what subsidies will apply and make it clear what the criteria are, who can apply and who who can apply when, when the subsidy will be granted and when it won’t be.

“It’s been confusing. I hope no one else has to go through the same grief.”

Opposition education spokesman Blair Boyer said “our public training provider is designed to be affordable and accessible”.

“We can’t expect prospective students and parents to spend weeks making phone calls just to determine if they are eligible to apply,” he said.

“It’s commendable that this family persisted – but we must keep in mind all the other families that gave up after weeks of confusion and mixed messages.”

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