Grafton TAFE students join organiser Kathy Nicholson, Greens NSW MLC John Kaye and federal Greens senator Lee Rhiannon to protest cuts to TAFE services.
Grafton TAFE students join organiser Kathy Nicholson, Greens NSW MLC John Kaye and federal Greens senator Lee Rhiannon to protest cuts to TAFE services. Adam Hourigan

TAFE in ‘race to the bottom’ with funding reforms, MP says

AN UPPER House inquiry aiming to uncover issues facing the state's vocational education system will start at Wollongbar and Lismore TAFE campuses today.

And critics of the rapid upheavals which have beset TAFE in recent years are lining up to speak.

One of those, Wollongbar TAFE horticulture student Sean O'Shannessey, said his experienced teacher looked like being "axed" mid-term due to funding changes.

The mature-age student said he was re-training to remain productive in the workforce.

"To me TAFE is one of those great Australian democratic institutions ... it's a way that working people get ahead in life," he said.

"If they gut publicly funded vocational education who is going to pay for it?"

TAFE is dealing with a new contestable funding model which pits it against private training providers in a competition for government funding.

Critics like Greens MLC John Kaye say the Coalition's reforms meant TAFE was in a "race to the bottom" to compete with profit-focused private training companies.

But supporters say the reforms will allow TAFE to remain efficient and industry-focused into the future.

Inquiry chair Paul Green said he called the inquiry to make sure there wasn't a "hole in the system" for the sake of the government's economic expediency.

"I wouldn't have called the inquiry if we didn't have concerns; we (now) want to get the evidence and get the testimony from people," he said.

Written submissions had already shown angst from regional people concerned they were losing access to skills and training needed to get jobs.

Among those making submissions is Northern Co-operative Meat Company chief executive Simon Stahl, who said the local TAFE was critical to the co-op's business and regional employment.

"We utilise the service to its capacity and it's probably helped us be one of the lowest 457 (skilled migrant) visa employers in the meatworks industry in Australia," he said.

"Most meatworks in Australia are heavily reliant on 457 visa holders; we've got less than 1% on 457s."

The consequence of this was more jobs for locals.

"We think TAFE into the future will play an enormous role," Mr Stahl said.



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