Champion powerlifter John Myers (second from left, above) is used to heavy lifting but the load on TAFE is crushing. “TAFE is going through the most radical attacks I’ve witnessed over 32 years of teaching,” he says.
“At Kempsey TAFE we have seen the loss of many teachers and support staff. This is bad not only for the staff who have lost work but also for students: Kempsey has a high unemployment rate and TAFE is crucial in providing second-chance education.”
Youth unemployment in the Mid North Coast is almost 18 per cent, Indigenous unemployment about 24 per cent and household incomes lower than the state average (Statistical Overview, Regional Development Australia - Mid North Coast, 2013). In such an environment TAFE could be a beacon of hope to job-seekers but funding cuts have limited courses and commercial rates for fees have been introduced that mean students have to find $3,000-$10,000 for a course at Kempsey TAFE (and some courses at some institutes cost much more), not a few hundred dollars as before.
“Now students can’t afford to go on,” John said. “In my section, evening courses have been cut and only offered on a commercial fee basis which is far too expensive for the students we normally have.”
John’s own life demonstrates the benefits of good TAFE training: his wife leapt the unemployment barrier and the loss in confidence that brings by going back to TAFE for a year 10 equivalent qualification; he has been in long-term (32 years) employment as teacher of metal fabrication and welding at Kempsey TAFE by getting his trade and further qualifications through TAFE. He has been teacher in charge for the past seven years.
A destabilising restructuring of positions at the North Coast Institute has seen a loss of 30 jobs with the possibility of teachers losing other jobs too. Kempsey TAFE alone has lost at least five jobs including that of the campus manager and a computing teacher. Each faculty will have its budget cut by at least a fifth this year. “TAFE would fall apart if it wasn’t for the goodwill of the teachers and office staff,” John said.
This year’s enrolments at Kempsey have been extremely difficult for staff because the new fee structure is based on a complicated mix of students’ qualifications and parts of qualifications, John says.
Fed Reps are playing a critical role in hard-pressed schools and TAFEs, and John asks more teachers to put their hands up for the role. He became Fed Rep at the Kempsey TAFE Institute 15 years ago. “The need to inform members of their rights and unite voices to fight for TAFE has never been greater than now, when the so-called Smart and Skilled reforms are undermining our high-quality education standards,” John says.