Tuesday, December 5, 2017

TAFE SA Crisis: Labor’s corporatisation in tatters

Nick G.

The crisis in South Australia’s TAFE system is a direct result of the public provider having been handed to the corporate sector by the State Labor government.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) conducted a random audit that found 16 courses had failed to meet the required standards. The ASQA audit was commissioned by the government following the failure of an internal TAFE SA audit to identify problems with the provider.

The crisis means that 800 students who have completed courses will need to be retrained, along with 2500 currently enrolled, to meet industry standards, and hundreds more wanting to enrol in 14 of the 16 courses will be unable to do so until problems are resolved.

Labor throws TAFE SA to the wolves

On November 24, 2011 Dr Bob Such, a former TAFE lecturer and Minister in a Liberal state government for Technical and Further Education, moved the following motion in the House of Assembly of the SA Parliament:

That this house calls on the state government to ensure that TAFE is not undermined by the introduction of full contestability for VET funding, nor by the South Australian government’s Skills for All policy.

The motion was carried.

It was an important motion and was the culmination of intensive lobbying by the Australian Education Union (AEU) in SA of state parliamentarians.

The AEU had seen what was happening in Victoria.  And it had felt the breath of the devil on the back of its neck in March 2011 when the chief executive of Business SA, Peter Vaughan, had savaged TAFE as a “sheltered workshop” for teachers. 

They were protected, he said, by the “dead hand of bureaucracy” and by “inflexible” industrial awards.

His chief criticism of lecturers and teachers in TAFE SA was that they “failed to meet the needs of the business community in filling skills shortages”.

He called for it to be made easier to sack permanent teachers and for the removal of the cap on the numbers of casually-employed staff.  Industrial agreements should be created for each area of expertise, he said, echoing John Howard’s AWAs.

How did the state Labor government respond?

The Minister for Employment, Training and Further Education (DFEEST) at the time, Jack Snelling, said that by 2012-13 he "expected" TAFE would have to compete openly against private training businesses and organisations.

"The Office for TAFE will have more autonomy and flexibility to respond to the market and be competing for training revenue."

TAFE SA was heading towards the Victorian model - and this was why Bob Such’s motion, eight months later, was so important.

That motion reflected the will of the people.  It is what parliaments are supposed to do.

But there is a lesson in this for people who want to confine struggles to defend public interests to the Labor Party and the parliamentary process.

Despite the replacement of the Rann-Foley leadership of the government with the ALP Left’s Jay Weatherill in October 2011, Vaughan’s agenda for the commercialisation of TAFE SA proceeded apace.

Indeed, one year after Weatherill’s new team had been in office, the SA parliament took TAFE SA out from under the control of DFEEST and handed it over to the private sector. The Further Education Minister at that time, Tom Kenyon, proudly announced that TAFE SA would now be an independent statutory corporation run by an independent Board.  The Board’s inaugural Chair?  Peter Vaughan!

Here are the other members of the inaugural Board:

·        Mr Rob Chapman. Mr Chapman is a former Managing Director of the State Bank of SA, and was most recently the CEO of St George Bank. He has extensive experience as Chairman of several high profile Boards.  He is a former President of Business SA. He is not an educator.

·        Ms Joanne Denley. Ms Denley is currently the Director of Human Resources and Risk Management at Bridgestone Australia a huge multinational corporation which she decribes as a “great global company”. She has a Master degree in Business Administration. She is not an educator.

·        Ms Miriam Silva. Ms Silva recently was General Manager of Commercial Operations at Elders and is currently a member of the Training and Skills Commission.  She has an Honours degree in Maths and is a high-profile Muslim.  As both a woman and a Muslim she has to be acknowledged for succeeding in a traditionally male and very conservative sector of South Australian business.  But she is not an educator.

·        Ms Noelene Buddle. Ms Buddle is a private consultant and sits on a number of Boards including WorkCover Corporation and the South Australian Museum.  She has a BA in Accountancy and a Master in Business Administration. She is a former general manager of broadcaster Austereo. She is not an educator..

·        Mr John Branson. Mr Branson is currently the Chairman of Directors at Stuart Petroleum and is a Director of AED Oil. He is not an educator.

·        Mr Adrian Gerard Marron. Mr Marron is currently Chief Executive Officer of the Canberra Institute of Technology and has over 15 years’ experience in the Tertiary Education sector.   He has experience as an educational administrator.

·        Ms Annette Hurley. Ms Hurley was most recently a Labor Senator for South Australia and former Chair of the Senate Economics Committee.  She is not an educator.

Five years on, only two of the original Board have left: the educator, Adrian Marron and Rob Chapman.  There are three new members: the Labor-safe author and newspaper columnist Susan Mitchell, ALP member and Timber Workers and CFMEU official Trevor Smith, and tertiary education consultant Virginia Simmons.

The TAFE SA basket-case

Current SA Education Minister Susan Close has responded to the ASQA audit by sacking Peter Vaughan and accepting the resignation of the TAFE SA CEO Robin Murt.  It is good to see Vaughan go in disgrace, but he should never have been appointed in the first place.  And changing the captain of a floundering ship is no answer: the failed corporatisation of TAFE SA should be entirely rescinded and the public provider brought back into a government department.

TAFE SA has been reduced to a basket case at the hands of the big end of town.  It proves beyond doubt that a large educational and training organisation cannot be run like a corporation.

This is what TAFE SA is now, thanks to the Board:

·        One third of TAFE SA’s jobs (about 500 jobs) will be slashed by 2018. They’ve already lost 400 jobs over the last three years. Funding is being slashed by $94 million.

·        One third of enrolments are now full fee-paying places. By 2019, the aim is to make half of the 80,000 students full fee payers, thereby heaping debt on the shoulders of those struggling to climb the ladder of opportunity.

·        the number of TAFE courses receiving State Government subsidies was cut from 900 to 700 in 2016. Some of the terminated courses were re-offered as online full-fee short subjects.

·        Applications for enrolment have declined year after year since corporatisation by around 6% p.a.

·        Robin Murt told a parliamentary committee hearing in 2015 the possibility that some campuses will be closed could not be ruled out.

The Labor government belatedly (2015) awarded TAFE SA 90 per cent of the subsidised places in new training courses under its WorkReady policy, displeasing the private training providers, but leaving the corporatised model intact.

Take TAFE SA back from the corporates!

The AEU blames under-resourcing through South Australia's Skills for All scheme for the widespread failure of TAFE SA to meet national training standards. Just before his resignation, Murt denied this, saying “funding is not a relevant factor in this issue”.

Funding, of course, is a major factor in the decline of TAFE SA, but the reason it has become a basket case is the corporatisation carried out by Labor.  That model must go. The state Government must accept the responsibility for guiding and funding the public training provider.

Disband the Board of TAFE SA and stop the policy of corporatisation!

Operate TAFE SA as a public good within the appropriate state government department!

Increase TAFE SA funding and lift staff levels to enable it to run efficiently!

Lift caps on enrolments in courses and reduce and abolish student fees!

Ensure TAFE SA operates as a provider of courses that reflect the interests and needs of a very diverse South Australian population, and not merely as a provider to employers of a workforce that meets their productivity requirements!

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