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State Govt about-face on TAFE closures

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The State Government has backflipped on plans to close TAFE SA’s Urrbrae campus, today announcing it will remain open but – along with several regional and outback campuses – it will operate in a reduced form.

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Education Minister John Gardner today revealed a “transition plan” for TAFE SA, which would see the training provider close its Port Adelaide campus in January and scale back its presence at Urrbrae, Coober Pedy, Roxby Downs and Wudinna.

While the Urrbrae campus had been earmarked for closure in last year’s State Budget, the State Government today announced it had satisfied demands to cut back on spending.

But the campus will operate on a “reduced footprint”, with Gardner telling reporters the campus would lose offices previously occupied by TAFE administrators.

That space will be reallocated to Urrbrae Agricultural High School, which is co-located on the site.

“There is still capacity, even with that reduced footprint, for us to continue to expand the courses,” Gardner said.

“(We have) 400 students here at the moment and we’re very optimistic that with both the investment of the industry and the interest here, but also with the work that we’re doing to elevate the status of skilled and technical qualifications… that will also encourage a lot more young people to think about maybe doing a vocational qualification.”

The Port Adelaide TAFE campus, to close in January, will have its courses transferred to either the Adelaide City or Regency campuses, or based at local council facilities, community centres, schools, and Port Adelaide and Woodville football club buildings.

In line with the Port Adelaide campus closure, the Government will build a new “Health and Wellness Precinct” at the Adelaide City campus, which will offer students health training in close proximity to the Royal Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s hospitals.

Both the Roxby Downs and Coober Pedy campuses – also earmarked for closure in last year’s State Budget – will now be scaled down instead, with teaching space to be reallocated to local schools.

The Roxby Downs campus will retain its workshop space to deliver training for the local school and community, while the workshop and hospitality facilities at Coober Pedy will also be shared with school students.

Gardner said the Coober Pedy campus would also be used by an Aboriginal health service.

He said the Wudinna TAFE campus would also turn into a “community hub” from which TAFE SA would run some courses.

Community liaison officers will operate across the three regional campuses.

“It’s great that we were able to meet the savings task that was needed for investment in TAFE, but keep that offering open,” Gardner said.

“When the previous board recommended the campuses for TAFE for closure it was part of a savings task. It was also in recognition of significant reductions in the numbers of students who were attending those campuses.

“But having this permanent TAFE presence here as an ongoing campus I think will enable us to get the maximum bang for our buck in delivering those courses.”

The Government allocated an extra $26.8 million for TAFE SA in this year’s Budget, on top of a $109 million funding boost last year.

Announcing the cash injection last month, Treasurer Rob Lucas said TAFE SA continued to suffer from “reputational” damage sustained in 2017 when the Australian Skills Quality Authority suspended enrolments in 14 courses after finding major problems with all 16 targeted by a random audit.

“We’re aware of the problems TAFE had, mainly trying to meet their revenue targets,” he said.

“Because of the reputational damage they’ve suffered, they haven’t been able to grow their client numbers as they’d have hoped.”

Gardner said today that enrolment figures across TAFE SA campuses – including Urrbrae – had “dwindled”, but the Government was confident that keeping the campus operating at a reduced capacity would be financially viable.

“I think the difference in the announcement we made last year is that we have confidence that Urrbrae TAFE as a brand and as a sight here where students can come to and know that they’re going to be doing their course… is something absolutely worth investing in and supporting going forward.

“We’ve had a two per cent increase (in enrolments) this year compared to this time last year, which doesn’t seem like much, but bear in mind this time last year we were dropping significantly just before 2017.

“We do expect to see that good turnaround that we’ve had so far increase in the years ahead.”

Underscoring the cutbacks to TAFE SA campuses was an announcement made yesterday that the Government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia to give independent training providers more access to TAFE SA’s publicly owned facilities.

The council’s executive officer Dr Joy de Leo said in a statement yesterday that the agreement would allow public and private training providers to “complement” each other.

“This agreement will ensure there is maximum benefit from the expertise and resources available in the Vocational Education and Training sector,” she said.

“The implications of this agreement are that the state will obtain greater value from the increased use of taxpayer-funded facilities with benefits going ultimately to those in receipt of training.”

According to TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman, TAFE would contribute to the agreement by providing other training providers and businesses with access to its campuses.

“There is training that we do really well here at TAFE SA. There are also areas that independent providers do really well,” he said.

“We need to be more connected for students and industry.”

But the Australian Education Union claims the agreement could result in TAFE SA switching its focus to the leasing of facilities rather than providing training for students.

“It is like having a fire sale after the place has been gutted,” state branch president Howard Spreadbury said.

“Instead of supporting and investing in TAFE SA, the Marshall Government is surrendering its responsibility and handing it over to private providers who are driven by profit.

“Letting private providers access taxpayer-funded facilities and set up in direct competition on TAFE SA’s own doorstep has the potential to undermine TAFE program delivery.”

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