GippsTAFE fears quelled

CENTRAL Gippsland Institute of TAFE will not close its Yallourn campus unless the proposed Morwell site, which would house the merged campuses, was already built and ready.

Speaking to The Express on Friday, GippsTAFE general manager corporate services Jim Vivian said if there was no sale, “everything would remain the same”.

“Even then, it would be a gradual move out over a number of years; it would be at least three to four years in building and planning,” Mr Vivian said.

“Whether the plan gets traction with the government or not is another thing; a new campus could cost $80 million, which is (an overstatement), but the point is it’s a significant amount of money.

“Nothing will happen to Yallourn until everything else is agreed to (including a site sale).”

The relocation of the Yallourn campus to Morwell was among three proposals outlined by GippsTAFE in a leaked cabinet-in-confidence document last week.

This was in addition to leveraging on GippsTAFE’s existing relationship with Monash University Gippsland to “operationalise the existing close working relationship”, according to Mr Vivian.

GippsTAFE’s long-term preferred option would be to merge with Chisholm Institute, which has a campus in Wonthaggi, and Advance TAFE, which is centred in East Gippsland, with the new entity to be fully operational in January 2016. This option would not preclude a new Morwell campus from being built.

According to the document, failing the first two options, the sale of the Yallourn site and building of a new Morwell facility would still be considered.

Even if a campus merger were to occur between Yallourn and Morwell, Mr Vivian said it would be a “real positive” for the institute.

“The Yallourn campus is an old design and was built in the 1960s and 70s… there are not many transport links, and it is a very ‘spread’ campus,” he said.

“It would be a positive move to a contemporary campus, and staff and students as well as the greater community would benefit with a relocation to Morwell.

“We own 10 acres of land (there), with room for the proposed Latrobe Performing Arts and Convention Centre; it could be a dynamic, iconic site in the Latrobe Valley.”

Mr Vivian said the Yallourn campus was the institute’s traditional trade delivery campus, and if it were to relocate to Morwell, the arrangement would stand.

At present, the Yallourn campus has more than 100 staff, and the majority of GippsTAFE’s annual new enrolments were at Yallourn.

The measures proposed by GippsTAFE, which was among the 18 institutes across the state who contributed to the TAFE transition plan, was “blue sky thinking,” Mr Vivian said.

“We were all thinking innovatively; these are high-end monetary demands to make, and the federal and state governments are not exactly flush with funds,” he said

Save Our TAFE Action Group Gippsland chair and Latrobe City councillor Lisa Price said the Yallourn proposal was “nothing the group had ever anticipated”.

Cr Price said when representatives of the group had met with Skills Minister Peter Hall and State Member for Morwell Russell Northe on Thursday, there had been no mention of the suggestion.

“There was talk of consolidation and amalgamation, but nothing (about selling Yallourn),” Cr Price said. She said from a council perspective, there were at least three major infrastructure projects within Latrobe City which required government funding.

Cr Price added it was “disappointing” GippsTAFE had not engaged with Latrobe City in its proposal to the State Government.

“There will be huge ramifications for the community if the campus closes,” she said.

“We want to know what will happen to the site (if they sell it); the last thing we want is a derelict site sitting there.

“The original Yallourn Technical College land has been vacant for quite a while and nobody has taken up the option to build there.

“We hope before any final decision is made, there will be community consultation.”

There were mixed reactions from Express Facebook readers; while some welcomed the idea of relocating GippsTAFE to Morwell for its centrality, others said it was no harder to get to Yallourn than to Morwell.

GippsTAFE lost $10 million of funding when the State Government announced a $300 million budget cut to TAFEs.

Some 35 staff have been made redundant, with more rounds of redundancies planned for August/September and October/November, and a final round in February 2013, according to the leaked document.

While the institute has already cut 60 courses and has plans to increase fees, it said it planned to “expand its apprenticeship market and its offerings in health and community services”.

A State Government spokesperson said it had not yet received an evaluation from the TAFE Reform Panel, having received the last of the detailed transition proposals on Tuesday.

“Once the (panel) has provided its comprehensive evaluation, the government will be in a position to consider these matters in detail,” the spokesperson said.

“No response to any particular proposal has been made by the government; speculation to the contrary is at the very least premature.”

The Federal Government has lambasted the Baillieu Government for its plan to consider selling a number of regional TAFE campuses, including the GippsTAFE Yallourn site.

Meanwhile, State Greens spokesperson for Education, Sue Pennicuik said blowouts in the TAFE sector were due to private trainers and market contestability introduced in the past.