EMBATTLED Victorian minister Peter Hall has been in the firing line of education sector unions over the past 12 months, but he maintains he is building “sustainable models in the training sector”.
In a recent interview with The Express, Mr Hall, who is Minister for Higher Education and Skills and the minister responsible for the teaching profession, said he “appreciated the challenges” 2012 brought with it, with regard to the highly-publicised $300 million cuts to the vocational education and training sectors, challenges faced by local apprentices and ongoing negotiations with Victorian teachers.
Despite funding cuts to the TAFE sector earlier this year, Mr Hall maintained there had been an increase in training funds and training organisations were now on “more equal footing”.
“Under the system Victoria has had now since 1 July 2009, we have a demand-driven training system,” he said.
“(But) there is no separate provision for TAFE (now); for instance, Apprenticeships Group Australia used to get paid less per apprentice than TAFE, but now they’re all paid at the same rate.”
The present situation meant there was an opportunity for TAFEs to win “the biggest share for the training dollar that’s available to them now”.
Mr Hall said he was working closely with TAFEs to win that funding and deliver training needed in their region.
“What I’m trying to do is position the TAFEs so they are able to be competitive in terms of competing for extra dollars available,” he said.
“I can understand the concern people have with the uncertainty, but I also think the people of Victoria would have an interest in how I spend their money as well; I have a budget of $1.2 billion every year for the next four years to spend on training and part of my responsibility is to make sure that money is spent wisely.”
Mr Hall said he never denied the shape of the training would change in some areas, adding it was not viable for all the TAFEs to provide every one of the 2000 training programs available in the state.
“We need to collaborate better with others; my aim is to build up the expertise and efficiency that will enable TAFEs to collectively serve the regions,” he said.
Hinting at consolidation, Mr Hall said it was not financially viable for a number of providers each to be delivering to very small markets.
“We can have TAFEs specialising in some areas… of all the (discontinued) courses announced by various TAFEs, more than a quarter of those have enrolment numbers of less than 10 students,” he said.
When asked about the mounting costs for certain diploma courses, such as nursing, Mr Hall said while he could not comment specifically, he said students could access VET fee help.
He acknowledged news of TAFE teacher job losses was not welcomed, but said the “best thing we can do is make sure we look to ways of growing the business so more teachers are needed”.
“Despite comments from some, I remain committed to making sure that at the end of all this, we see a sustainable system here in Gippsland to grow and strengthen,” Mr Hall said.
“I understand the uncertainty at this point in time; I expect there will be greater certainty in the very near future and particularly as we start the new academic year, I expect a lot of anxiety to be relieved.
“Teachers will know if they have jobs, students will know if they have courses, and we will know what sort of additional opportunities may be available to grow businesses.”