Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TAFE cuts fightback

Vanguard June 2012 p. 10
Jim H.

Anger against the Victorian government’s TAFE $300 million funding slash is rising.  Two thousand general staff and teaching positions will be axed and student fees will double or even treble.

Regional TAFE institutes will be the hardest hit by Baillieu’s savage cuts. Well attended community rallies to support TAFE campaigns were held in Mildura and Ballarat in late May. June will see rallies in Traralgon, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Bairnsdale and Warrnambool. 
This follows the successful 5000-strong rally in Melbourne on May 10 when TAFE general staff, lecturers and students were joined by supporters from unions such as the CFMEU, MUA, CEPU, AMWU, CPSU, ASU, ANF, ETU, etc.

Privatisation vs the public good
It does not take a brains trust to see that this is not about sound financial management, but a cynical move to swing an axe against public education, to cut it down, in order to set the ground for a new wave of privatisation. In this way, the government gets to look after its big business mates wanting to profit from the wreckage.
Nor is it just the Baillieu government to blame. Colin Long, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Victorian Secretary, was correct to identify the previous state Labor government’s support for “contestability”, the euphemism for forcing TAFEs into a rigged market system.  Let us not forget that the ALP opened the gate and let the barbarians in,” he said at the May 10 rally. “The ALP must now show where it really stands. Here is an opportunity for it to cast aside the free market madness that has infected it for years, to show that it stands with TAFE teachers, students and local communities in fighting for quality, accessible public education.”

We won’t hold our breath waiting, however, particularly when essential elements of privatising the vocational education and training (VET) market are driven by the Gillard Government through COAG agreements with the states and territories.
TAFE teachers are the immediate victims. The funding cut focussed on taking away money that had been earmarked for the payment of wages. The current agreement with teachers has been torn up.
TAFEs are forced into cutting hours. They will be forced into increasing class sizes and fewer classroom hours. Larger class sizes and fewer classroom hours will have an effect on the quality of training.

Students are also victimised by the changes. Fees are set to rise substantially. So-called “income contingent loans” are simply a mechanism for shifting costs onto students – and demanded by Federal Labor as a precondition for states and territories to access funding under the National Partnership Agreement for Skills Reform.

This is disgraceful, not only in terms of the impact on teachers and students, but also in that it damages the skills base in Australia. With the decline of manufacturing, capital’s need for technically skilled workers in this sector of the economy is diminishing, and it is cheaper to import Section 457 visa workers, trained at another country’s expense, who can be sent home when they are no longer needed. This is another instance of the tendency under capitalism to destroy the forces of production.  

Conflict between the people and capital
The cut must also be seen in the context of a capitalist education system in an era of deepening capitalist economic and social crisis. In the first place, every opportunity to turn a profit is taken advantage of. Public resources are pillaged, with the aid of a government and public institutions in the pocket of the corporations.
Whilst capitalist education serves the interests of capitalism, thousands of teachers and others pull in the opposite direction. Their efforts are to serve the Australian people and work for a better future. Big business and its government fear this sentiment. And in the present circumstances see a need to go on the offensive.
The TAFE funding cut aims to carry on the process of consolidating a two tier education system, with a declining public part, and a private part designed to be better resourced, more directly and firmly tied to the interests of big business and service to capitalism, and increasingly restricted to the most privileged. In just four years, the TAFE share of VET fell from 75% (2008) to 49% (2011). Over the same time private VET providers increased their share from 14% to 40%. A further 11% held by adult and community education organisations remained constant over the same period.
Market promotes scams, undermines quality

The TAFE cut, we are told, is about ‘refocusing’ vocational education. What that means in terms of courses offered is that socially necessary but costly courses with relatively low enrolments, such as of the Australian Sign Language course at Kangan Institute in Richmond, the only one of its kind in Victoria, which provides sign language training to deaf people as well as interpreters, teachers of the deaf and other professionals, is threatened, whilst large enrolment courses of poor quality and short duration in the private sector are proliferating.

A case in point is the so-called “Diploma of OHS” offered by SafetyNet Management Solutions which promises to give participants more specialised knowledge within the field of Occupational Health and Safety. A field of study vital to the question of safety for workers, and which has the self-proclaimed status of a Diploma course, is nothing more than a 5-day fast track course.  It would be a joke if it wasn’t so serious, but at least one private provider is making money and that’s all that counts.
A deregulated market place is to shonky operators what a dung heap is to blow flies. Take the case of the Vocational Training Group (VTG) scam. This private provider offered a Certificate IV in Outdoor Recreation. The “same” certificate undertaken in a TAFE College requires 800 to 1200 hours of study. VTG cut it down to 90-minute sessions, or 15 hours. For each student they enrolled they were entitled to $10,000 from the Government.  So a whole bunch of Louie the Fly types were sent out to community sporting clubs, offering $500 “education scholarships” to each participant, and a kickback of $1000 to his or her club. These payments were to be made by the Supreme Athlete Foundation, a “charitable project” registered at the same address as VTG. Capitalists always want “small government” when it is a question of providing for the people’s welfare, but are happy to
use it as their own personal milch cow when there’s an easy buck to be made.
The inequity is being entrenched in other ways too. For example, while TAFEs will get a modest $1 an hour for equipment heavy courses, private providers will get $2.50 for the same.
But every action causes a reaction. Already, teachers and students are taking action. Under the leadership of the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the NTEU, the TAFE4all campaign is up and running. It fits in with mounting action against attacks on other sectors of the public education system.
This is going to be a long battle however. Success will be based on continuing efforts to involve teachers, students and parents and continuing development of active community support, as well as clever strategy suited to the twists and turns of ongoing battle. The attack can be turned back. Victoria’s nurses recently showed what is possible.
Within the context of bringing people together for a common cause, here is an opportunity to raise the question – education for whom? Turning back the attack on public education is extremely important. It is also important to build the strength of those forces that work for education to serve the interests of the people.

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