September 2, 2018

Working towards the commission of inquiry

By The Stop TAFE Cuts team

The Australian Labor Party is continuing to work on its proposed Commission of Inquiry, and recently asked for submissions to help consider what the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry should be.The AEU Federal Office contributed a substantial submission to this process.The submission firstly discussed the role of TAFE broadly, TAFE’s history, the important work TAFE does as a place for workers to learn, the importance of TAFE teachers and some questions around funding. The second part of the submission examined the four main areas that the AEU believes the Inquiry should focus on.We are happy to be able to print the second part of the submission here on the Stop TAFE Cuts blog.

What should the terms of reference for the inquiry be?

The inquiry must focus on TAFE first. The urgency of the task ahead cannot be overstated, nor the damage done to the TAFE system ignored. Whilst it is sensible to consider all elements of the post-secondary education system in Australia in this inquiry, because they are so interrelated, TAFE cannot wait. The damage being done to the sector as underfunding continues to wreak havoc must be stemmed urgently. In NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, job losses have gutted the TAFE sector. In Victoria, 44 per cent of the TAFE workforce has been sacked. In NSW, it is 35 per cent and in Queensland, 25 per cent.This has undoubtedly effected not only students, but the remaining staff and teachers.It represents an irreplaceable loss of knowledge and expertise to the system, and further demonstrates the crisis in the sector. The number of government funded vocational education students has fallen by almost 17 per cent since 2012 across all jurisdictions, but in TAFE, student numbers have fallen by 25 per cent, as all states and territories endure cuts to campuses, courses and staff.

1. Funding and resourcing.

The TAFE sector is the lowest funded of all the education sectors. The inquiry must assess what all key social partners acknowledge to be the deplorably low rates of investment and funding in the sector, both in comparison with other education sectors, and in relation to the real costs of providing high quality, and dynamic vocational and general education in this sector.

There must be an urgent and independent analysis of the impact of income contingent loans on the sector, including the impact on individual students, on participation, on costs to the system and to individuals, and the impact on the capacity of the system to offer a broad range of qualifications and courses across a range of industries and sectors.

2. Architecture and governance.

The AEU acknowledges the manifest risk in focussing on the roles of respective levels of governments in funding and resourcing of the Australian TAFE system. We believe that if the inquiry considers this aspect of the system before any others, there is a risk that it will be unable to resolve any other aspects of the systems problems in time to stop the damage which is currently paralysing the system. For this reason, it is important to progress other aspects of the inquiry at the same time as the roles of respective levels of governments are interrogated.

The system has been obsessed over the past thirty years with employer control of the system, including curriculum and pedagogy. Many of the governance arrangements have been focussed on employers, and skewed towards their interests, including a willingness to make government funding available to subsidise or encourage training, both through direct delivery, and also through wage subsidy. The rationale for this has been the importance placed on employment and just-in-time skills to make student work-ready. Even if we were not to dispute the narrowness of the underlying philosophy of such an approach, it is clearly time to acknowledge that the strategy has not been successful. We manifestly do not have a vocational education system which meets the needs of a modern, innovative and adaptive economy and society, and students have been denied the opportunity to access a broad, sophisticated and innovative vocational education which prepares them for the future. It is critical that the impact and role of employer dominance of the vocational education system be examined, and that the inquiry consider the role of all social partners, including students, in the public TAFE system.

3. Curriculum and pedagogy.

The role of competency based training in the Australian TAFE and vocational education system has arguably run its course. Training Packages and CBT have dominated the system, have become am industry in themselves, with vast amounts of public funding expended to maintain a network of “advisory” and other bodies, and a growing number of qualifications which are of questionable quality, and usefulness, to individuals or industry.

This inquiry must consider what sort of qualifications and courses a contemporary public vocational education institution like TAFE needs to develop and offer. It is critical that the inquiry engage which a broad range of social partners to determine the type of qualifications that society and the economy require to meet the needs of the workforce in the future. This must include an examination of the future of work, and the anticipated structure of the economy into the future.

It should be the role of the public vocational education system, and its TAFE institutions to collaborate with communities, individuals, governments and industries to focus on working with students to assist them in preparing for a future of life and work where industries and the economy are in constant state of flux. The focus of the system must not be on just in time skills, but rather on deep and sustainable knowledge and practise – things which the TAFE system has done in the past, and which it must now be supported to do into the future.

4. The TAFE teaching workforce

The TAFE teaching workforce has been decimated. Teaching preparation and skills have been neglected, largely as a result of an ideological commitment to competency based training, and the determination of governments and employers to exert control over the content and methodology of teaching and learning in the sector. What little preparation and ongoing professional development continues to exist in the sector is haphazard, and poorly funded and organised. Industrially, TAFE has unacceptably high rates of insecure work.Workload has soared, as employers in the sector have sought to make ends meet in the wake of increasingly low funding and resourcing by shaving hours, and by work intensification. TAFE teachers have rejected the largely discredited low level, CBT based qualification which has become the standard in the sector – the CIV TAE.

The AEU advocates for a teaching workforce renewal strategy which includes degree-level teaching qualifications for TAFE teachers, including the specific features of adult and vocational learning which students in the TAFE sector require. Any qualifications offered in the sector must also acknowledge the specific industry qualifications and expertise that individual TAFE teachers bring to the sector, and on-going professional development, and return to industry programmes to maintain currency and expertise. The sector must commit to the development of high level teaching and vocational expertise, and engage in a collaborative strategy with the profession, through the AEU to rebuild the teaching workforce, and recognise the key role that it plays.