The Australian Education Union (AEU) has welcomed the release of the terms of reference of Labor’s National Inquiry into Post-secondary Education in Australia, saying Australia’s TAFE system has suffered greatly under the Morrison government’s drive to privatise vocational education.

The AEU acknowledged the significant opportunity proposed by this Review to fundamentally reconsider the structure of Australia’s post-secondary system with TAFE as a central component.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that it was vital that TAFE was restored to its rightful place as the strong public provider of vocational education in Australia.

“We welcome Labor’s announcement of a comprehensive National Inquiry into Post-secondary Education instead of the piecemeal approach adopted by the Morrison government,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We also welcome Labor’s commitment to TAFE by guaranteeing a minimum two thirds of government funding to the public TAFE system.”

“TAFE funding cuts have had a devastating impact on our students, our communities and our TAFE staff,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“In the past five years we have seen the number of TAFE campuses across the country drop by a third. We have seen Commonwealth, State and Territory government recurrent expenditure on vocational education decrease by $1.5 billion over the last five years, and, even after the VET FEE-HELP loans scandal last year, more than $325 million in publicly-funded loans went to private, for-profit providers.

“Meanwhile the total amount of public money given to private vocational education providers has almost tripled over the last decade,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said the Morrison government’s current review into vocational education, chaired by Steven Joyce, had been initiated for political purposes.

“The Morrison government’s review into vocational education cannot be taken seriously,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This inquiry, the first in forty years into the vocational education sector, was only announced in late November last year, and is being rushed to finish within the next couple of weeks. This can only be seen as a cynical attempt to rush through a quick pre-election announcement by Prime Minister Morrison.”

“The Morrison government’s review is being chaired by Steven Joyce, the man who gutted New Zealand’s vocational education sector,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“What hope is there for any reasonable outcome when TAFE, the public provider, is not even acknowledged in the terms of reference?”

Ms Haythorpe said that the AEU has called for:

  1. A guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. No public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
  2. A restoration of funding to rebuild the TAFE system, to restore confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
  3. The abandonment of the failed student loans experiment, and cancelation of the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
  4. Re-investment in the TAFE teaching workforce and development of a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
  5. Development of a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
  6. Support for a comprehensive independent inquiry into TAFE.