The Guardian 25 April, 2007

Push to impose HECS on TAFE

Calls for the introduction of a HECS-type system for TAFE courses in a Treasury Working Paper released last week are further evidence of increased pressures on TAFE students as a result of government under-funding. The Australian Education Union (AEU) said that HECS was the wrong solution to growing costs in TAFE.

AEU Federal TAFE Secretary Ms Pat Forward said that a HECS in TAFE is a lazy and short-sighted solution to a problem which is the responsibility of state and federal governments.

"It is just too easy to shift the costs to individual students, whether in the short term or the long term", said Ms Forward.

"High fees are already discouraging students from undertaking TAFE courses and a HECS would simply lead to more fees and charges in the same way as it has done in higher education.

"Applying a HECS to TAFE will just worsen the 200,000 shortage of skilled workers Australia is already facing. The key point this paper misses is that if funding for TAFE had been sustained at 1996 levels, then there would have been no reason for such an increase and no need for income contingent loans to be considered."

She pointed out that TAFE provides not just training, but also a second chance and further education for many adults, and that TAFE should be funded by all governments to provide training and education at an affordable cost to students. Income contingent loans should not be necessary.

"The Australian community benefits from high participation rates in vocational education and training, and individuals pay for their education through increased participation in the workforce as a result of their vocational studies.

"Industry and governments should not be allowed to shirk their responsibility to properly invest in the sector. Young working class students, and older people returning to study should not be forced to shoulder additional financial burdens", Ms Forward said.


TAFE is bit by bit being led down the same privatisation and commercialisation path as universities. Unis have gone from fee-free with entry based on merit to rich students buying places and the rest exiting with enormous HECS debts.

The government is creating an "education market" with universities and now TAFE. Its new technical colleges and private trainers are expected to run on a for-profit basis or at the very minimum pay their own way. High fees are the only way they can do this. Hence, the introduction of HECS to the TAFE sector so that students can still gain access to training and skills development in TAFE.

In the process TAFE courses become commodities to be bought by the wealthy and those prepared to go into debt. The pressure is on to cut the curriculum by removing the broader more educational aspects that are not directly related to narrow technical skills. When TAFE was introduced in the 1970s, as Technical and Further Education the education component was seen as important, particularly for working class kids.

The AEU is holding an Affordable TAFE Roundtable in Canberra on the May 9 to encourage debate and discussion in this area.

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