Hurt by course cuts

LOCAL women will be among those most hurt in a reduction in course offerings at Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE, following cuts to the state education budget.

That was the consensus of the industry observers who spoke to The Express in the week following the leaked cabinet-in-confidence TAFE transition plans document and proposals outlined by Latrobe Valley-based GippsTAFE were  made public.

“A lot of the courses to be cut (outlined in the document) are courses that predominantly girls and women are enrolling in,” Save Our TAFE Action Group Gippsland chair and Latrobe City councillor Lisa Price said, in reference to the proposal by GippsTAFE to cut courses including beauty therapy, salon management and allied health.

“For this cohort (of women), the pathways are no longer going to be there.”

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council Women’s Action Coalition spokesperson Anne Murphy said there were concerns raised about the impact of courses being cut, for women, and the ramifications would be felt immediately.

“The courses they are proposing to shut down are traditionally for women; TAFE is a way back in to the workforce without being too confrontational. It’s a stepping stone for women who want to upskill after they’re had their families,”  Ms Murphy said.

“It’s a story that will affect not just women; people will be stuck in a situation where they cannot advance themselves.”

Just last month, the GTLC’s Women’s Action Coalition said it would take women an extra 64 days to catch up with men’s annual earnings, given women earn 18 per cent less than men on average.

“In the future, who’s to say the gap wouldn’t be wider? We may see more women reaching an age where they cannot retire because they don’t have enough superannuation,” Ms Murphy said, adding some of the courses, which have been dubbed “lifestyle courses” provided students with skills beyond the formal qualification.

GippsTAFE chief executive Peter Whitley said the removal of opportunities for women, who comprised up to 51 per cent of society, was “very difficult” and a “tragedy”.

“We’ve had many reports coming through how we should be encouraging women to re-enter the workforce after they’ve had families, but this has been taken away by the State Government policy,” Dr Whitley said.

“If the government supports apprenticeships, and looking at the demographic, they are predominantly male, they are potentially discriminating against females. For a young woman who stays at home and raises a family, the only time they are able to come back (into the workforce) is when the kids are in school, but they will find the opportunities are  not there because courses are closed, or too expensive.

“It’s a tragedy.”

Dr Whitley said he hoped to see subsidies recognised for disadvantaged groups to enable them to undertake courses.

“We have argued, on deaf ears, there should be a way to reinstate funding; we want to open up courses again.”

While he could not confirm which courses would be removed from GippsTAFE’s course offering, Dr Whitley said all courses were under review.

“We will continue to run as many courses as we can, but making the judgment on what we believe students in our region can afford; we don’t believe offering courses which are too expensive are good for the community,” he said.

In giving an example on how the State Government education budget would affect TAFE students, Dr Whitley said on the high end of the scale, the diploma of nursing could cost up to $8300 in 2013 from $1500 in 2011. 

He said the government subsidies did not reflect the particular needs of a regional community like Gippsland’s.

When asked if TAFE still had a future in the region, Dr Whitley said he believed it did. “However, our concern is if we have to rely on full-fee paying students, there is a deficit of these potential students within Gippsland,” he said, adding not many locals could afford full fees.

“If our reliance is to be on generating income, the focus for us has got to be outside of Gippsland,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we will vacate buildings; it means our emphasis will change (to outside the region).”

A spokesperson from Skills Minister Peter Hall’s office said the reforms to vocational education and training would support “more students than ever to access high quality training that leads to jobs”.

“Despite the scare mongering tactics from the union, what we’ve actually seen is great opportunities for training providers,” government spokesperson Kristy McSweeney said.

“We are committed to a training system that provides real jobs and is sustainable as a long-term training sector.”