TAFE students, teachers and supporters gathered in Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens today to protest the Baillieu government’s $300 million cuts to the sector’s funding.
Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian president, Mary Bluett, told the estimated 2,000-strong crowd the Victorian government was disregarding TAFE’s importance for giving young people a future.
“This is an act of social vandalism,” Ms Bluett said.
“Victoria needs TAFE.”
The rally followed last week’s leak of cabinet documents to The Age and ABC News which showed several TAFE colleges were planning to close campuses, sack staff and cease offering courses.
The AEU and National Tertiary Education Union responded to the news by calling on Victorian TAFE teachers and staff to stop work for 24 hours.
Minister for Higher Education and Skills Peter Hall this afternoon released a statement condemning the unprotected strike action.
Mr Hall said TAFEs would “continue to play an important role” in Victoria’s training system.
“Victoria invests more money than any other state in its training system and the Coalition Government’s changes provide all organisations – including TAFE – access to a record amount of funding,” he said.
“While any period of change causes some uncertainty, I am confident that Victoria’s training system is responding to the changes well and that we will have a stronger, more responsive and sustainable system in the future.”
Former Gippsland TAFE teacher Phillip Mayer said the effects of funding cuts were already being felt by the Gippsland community.
Addressing the rally, Mr Mayer said the programs he had designed and taught built confidence, self-esteem and skills, and inspired at-risk youths to re-engage in the community.
“These programs have been axed because the government bean counters don’t think they add value,” he said.
“Good, experienced and passionate teachers are leaving or being pushed out of the system because their programs aren’t financially viable.”
Mr Mayer said that the negative ramifications to the community from the government cut-backs could not be underestimated.
“The students have been forgotten about because the government doesn’t think they mean anything,” he said.
“They’re standing in the Centrelink lines and hanging around shopping centres. They’ve got no hope, no future.”
Swinburne TAFE disability liaison officer Lee Touzeau said TAFE should be available to those who aren’t necessarily inclined to go on to university education.
“Universities are becoming extremely elite,” Ms Touzeau said.
“George Swinburne created not a university, but a college of technology to help young men get a trade.”
“These cuts are wiping out all of the trade education.”
Ms Touzeau said she worked closely with many students from low socio-economic backgrounds who would not be able to afford to continue their education if fees increased as expected.
“The standard of the courses going forward is also very doubtful,” she said.
Fight Back campaign member David Suter said he hoped to start studying at TAFE next year but wasn’t sure if any suitable courses would be available.
“TAFE is an important place for people to get further education and develop skills if they can’t afford to go to university,” he said.
“The cuts are going to leave lots of people without skills and without opportunity.”