Interview: Rock Solid
Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Politics: The Johnnie Code
Energy: Fission Fantasies
History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
International: Closer to Home
Economics: Taking the Fizz
Unions: Stronger Together
Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Poetry: Fair Go Gone
The Locker Room
When the Truth Hurts
It would be no surprise to most that the Federal Howard Government is continuing its ideological attack on the public TAFE system, including through the funding conditions of the so-called Skilling Australia's Workforce Act and through the 9 May Federal Budget. With billions of dollars to give away, most has gone to the relatively well off, with no serious effort being made to address the national skills shortage crisis. The four year forward estimates only provide an increase for vocational and other training/education expenses of about 1.5% per annum, much less than expected inflation, never mind rectifying the Coalition's horrendous cuts in Federal funding since 1997.
An indication of the extent of the Howard Government cuts, latest NCVER statistics reveal that Commonwealth real funding per VET student hour has been cut by 24% from 1997 to 2004. This equates to a Federal Government funding shortfall of about $330 million in 2004 alone. This low funding base continues.
Spending is proposed to be cut further as a percentage of Federal Government budget expenditure from 0.75% in 2005/06 to 0.67% in 2009/10. TAFE's cuts will be much more than the overall cuts due to the Government's continuing privatisation agenda.
In an address to the World Skills Leaders Forum in Melbourne on 7 May, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke quoted the following OECD statistic 'This Federal Government' he said 'has decreased spending on tertiary education by 8% including vocational education and training over the last decade, when all other OECD countries have increased such spending, on average by 38%'. He noted that this is a figure this country should be truly ashamed of, especially now given that a recent international survey of businesses found the skills shortages crisis in Australia was second worst only to Botswana! The Federal Government's funding neglect of VET has not only been highlighted by the OECD, but has even caused protestations from the Reserve Bank and the Australian Industry Group.
Of course, the Federal government will refer to the Budget's increases as if inflation and growth in student demand are non existent, and refer to some increases such as an additional $107 million over 4 years for New Apprenticeships Centres (NACs), however in NSW, none of this NAC funding will now go to Department of Education and Training/TAFE. This is because of the decision of the Federal Minister for Vocational and Technical Education Gary Hardgrave to cancel the DET's New Apprenticeships Centre (DETNAC) contract from 30 June 2006, despite the Federal Government's own assessment system giving DETNAC a 98% quality service rating and a 93% satisfaction rating among apprentices and employers that had used its services. The DETNACs provide probably the best training support service in Australia and in NSW assist more than 100,000 apprentices and trainees, and 37,000 employers. Its customer base is about 44% of the NSW market. The Federal Government's list of 30 approved new NAC contractors does not include one public provider. Many individual employers and Group Training NSW have written to the Federal Coalition seeking the reversal of the decision to cut DETNAC's contract.
The provision in the Federal budget to increase some funding to a National Approach to Apprenticeships, Training and Skills Recognition is unlikely to provide any benefit to TAFE, and as for the $350 million originally allocated to the "fabulous" Australian Technical Colleges, well it appears that only four of these are now operational and that only about 100 students have been enrolled! With this funding, TAFE could have already trained tens of thousands to address critical skills shortages.
Sadly, the NSW Labor Government cannot escape without sharing much of the blame for its TAFE funding cuts and efforts to shed the costs to students with excessive increases in TAFE fees and charges. NSW provides about 70% of Government funds for TAFE NSW. An analysis of funding since 1998 suggests that although NSW Government funding in real terms per student hour has been cut by about 10%, this is equivalent to a shortfall of $110 million per year now. Coupled with the Federal Government's even greater cuts, the combined effect for TAFE NSW is a shortfall of about $250 million per year.
The national skills shortage crisis and consequent economic damage will inevitably worsen unless Federal and State Governments both accept their responsibility to invest appropriately in the skills education base of Australia's people, by reversing their massive funding cuts of the last 10 years. The NSW Government has an opportunity to restore its tarnished image, by significantly increasing its funding in real terms to TAFE in the State Budget to be delivered on 6 June. It appears that the Federal Coalition Government will only learn its lesson if it is thrown out of office.
Phil Bradley, is Assistant General Secretary (Post School Education) NSW Teachers Federation
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