Dust settles on GippsTAFE overhaul

The Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE has confirmed a 10 per cent drop in enrolments on last year’s figures, as the institute’s course overhaul, largely forced by State Government budget cuts, begins to settle.

Necessary in what many teachers have lamented as the most tragic outcome of the TAFE course revamp, GippsTAFE chief executive Peter Whitley said the institute was no longer able to focus on its traditional ‘community obligation’ roles.

“There’s no questioning that TAFEs are still trying to come to grips with the new order of things; while it’s a delicate balancing act, I think we’ve weathered most of the nasty bit of the storm – we are now stabilising at lower level of students and enrolments which we feel is sustainable,” Mr Whitley said.

With about 1300 less students (12 month rolling figure) enrolled across its campuses last month, Mr Whitley said GippsTAFE had made 80 staff redundant since the State Government announced $300 million in cuts to the sector in May last year.

He said the core function of the institute was now focused on ensuring course offerings led to direct employment outcomes for students.

“I think (the overhaul) has certainly changed the goals of the institution, but it is time to move on; with the government we have in place at the moment we are operating in a different policy reality, so our attitude has been for some time now about going forward and making the most of situation,” Mr Whitley said.

“But it’s going to take a little while for the community to accept the new way TAFE operates… our teaching staff are very very community minded, and do feel that TAFE is part of the social fabric of the community, but we do have 500-odd staff, and there are a range of different perspectives there.”

Former GippsTAFE foundation studies teacher Neil Hauxwell, who continues to provide limited teaching services at TAFE, after being made redundant late last year, said the institute’s restructure had been an “amazingly destructive process”.

He said GippsTAFE had reduced its provision for disability services, general adult education, youth support, social and community studies, and adult VCE courses in the overhaul.

“These are areas that we should be focusing more on, not less – these are all part of establishing links and improving the outlook for so many people in our community, particularly those with educational disadvantages,” Mr Hauxwell said.

“I think the new approach is a very shortsighted view that will be mightily damaging for regional Victoria.”

Mr Whitley said he could not quantify how large an impact the funding cuts (which also forced a widespread increase in course fees) had on enrolment figures, citing further contributing factors such as the construction industry downturn’s impact on reduced take up of apprenticeships and traineeships.

The enrolment figures, current as of last month, come six months after GippsTAFE announced it had recorded a seven per cent surge in enrolment in the beginning of the 2013 education year.

It also comes after the release of the 2013 Victorian Training Market Quarterly Report, which showed enrolments across Gippsland’s TAFE sector, which includes the separately operated AdvanceTAFE campus in East Gippsland, had dropped 15 percent, compared to the nine per cent drop statewide, over the year up to March 2013.

“The stated aim of (state) government in the $300 million a year cuts was to focus the industry to provide graduates that the state’s economy needs, but these are the very students that are missing out… (the) decision to gut the TAFE sector will send people into the Centrelink queue instead of the job interview queue,” State Opposition member for Eastern Victoria Matt Viney said.

However Mr Whitley said Mr Viney’s comment was “somewhat emotional”, and didn’t consider the circular impact of region’s poor employment prospects on enrolments.

“The whole situation is somewhat sad for the region, but it is a question that we are asking right now – what happens to those other kids (who would have enrolled this year),” Mr Whitley said.

“I’ve been asking myself exactly the same question – where did they go?”

GippsTAFE has yet to apply for a portion the $200 million structural adjustment money announced for TAFEs by the Napthine government March, which TAFE’s can use to assist to adjust to the widespread funding cuts across the sector.

“We certainly will be seeking some of that money, but we have not yet finished all the work that needs to be done to get the clear understanding we need as to where we could direct it effectively; we hope to be in a better position to make that in the middle of august,” Mr Whitley said.