On the 20th of October, I travelled to Sydney for the day to listen to key industry speakers give presentations about the future of TAFE in Australia. Also attending from Tasmania was Simone Loone on behalf of the TAFE Division of the AEU, Shane Pinner TAFE Division Executive member and Labor member for Elwick Josh Willie MLC.

The keynote speakers were as follows: Professor Leesa Wheelaham, a professor at the University of Toronto and a huge supporter of TAFE; Jim Stanford, an economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work; John Buchanan, a major researcher of the labour market, working life transitions and workforce development; Valerie Braithwaite, who holds a professorial appointment in the Regulatory Institutions Network at ANU; and John Pardy, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University.

We were also lucky enough to have Tanya Plibersek (Shadow Minister for Education), which was a highlight. Ms Plibersek spoke openly about mistakes made in the past by Labor and what they have planned.

The presentations covered the broad range of issues which are affecting the TAFE sector however they were all singing the same tune which was that Federal and State Governments need to decide what they want TAFE to do. TAFE is being squeezed with increasing pressure from private for-profit RTOs and the University sector who are now seeing the VET sector as a good money earner.  The university sector has seen a 45% increase in funding whilst TAFE had 4% reduction, can we co-exist with the University sector or will it be taken over?

Speakers suggested that the focus should be placed back on TAFE becoming the anchor of the VET sector in Australia. TAFE’s role is not only to deliver educational programs but to support sustainable social and economic development.

It was suggested that there should be less focus on skill sets; as these may meet the needs of employers but the students do not get the broad range of skills and knowledge that they require. If we want our students to be well informed and empowered to contribute to society then we need to give them qualifications which are delivered with a focus not only in what the industry needs are but also what the students’ needs are.

It was a great conference, and highlighted the substantial role TAFE plays in the educational and training landscape in Australia.