TAFE NSW experiences enrolment and financial decline

In 2016, the ‘OneTAFE’ restructuring saw the merging of ten autonomous TAFEs into one centralised teaching and curriculum development organisation. An independent report claims that this reorganisation for the skills and TAFE sector has returned the vocational industry to its less desirable, centralised form.

The restructure was meant to fit the “fee for service” training program model, however the LH Martin report stated that there was been “no real analysis of how big this market was and whether TAFE had the capability and capacity to service it” and suggests another national review was required.

 

Brian Scott, a management consultant in the 1980s, was first responsible for endorsing the widely praised “dispersed institute” model. Robin Shreeve and Joanna Palser, the authors of the report, describe the 2016 restructuring as an abrupt reversal of the previous strategy, which intended to increase efficiency and reduce spending.

 

Various government reports advocated the industry against this change, and the current state of the skills sector, with intake numbers falling and businesses stressing the obstacles of working with TAFE NSW, is seen to some extent as a consequence of these changes. 

Two other reports, by Michael Keating, a former secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Kerry Schott, a former managing director of Deutsche Bank, had also endorsed a decentralised structure – particularly moving the responsibility of teacher employment conditions away from the TAFE head office. 

Part of the problem also stems from businesses who employ apprentices being unable to obtain documents that demonstrate student attendance records or apprentice training schedules.

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Financial problems add to management strategy concerns

Adding to management strategy and performance concerns, in 2016 TAFE NSW was forced to spend $10 million to rebuild the reliability of its data after failures plagued the student administration system. This was in addition to the cost of a new student learning and administration system that was built for the sector at $40 million three years ago – a system that is now so unreliable it will need to be replaced again at an additional cost of almost $90 million. TAFE NSW also reported a $51 million deficit in 2017 compared to a surplus of $65 million in 2016, primarily due to fall in student admission numbers and revenue. 

 

Problems plaguing the sector are not unique to TAFE NSW, with enrolment down across the board in all states except Victoria and ACT from 2016 -2017, with NSW experience the biggest decline of 296,060 to 261,275 students in that period, and an overall national decline of 30.1% since 2012. 

The rise of unethical private operators, the student fee assistance debacle, and general federal policy (which has come to largely favour university enrolments) has been seen as the other major factors undermining the current state of vocational education system.

Advocacy groups question industry direction

The TAFE Community Alliance (TCA), a VET sector advocacy group, claim that the 2016 changes have trimmed the responsibilities of TAFE NSW down to its core activities, while at the same time creating courses that were not suitable or responsive to the local market. 

Additionally, the hiring policy for staff has moved away from employing and presenting teaching qualifications to those with appropriate industry experience. The implications of this, in the eyes of businesses and employers, is a less relevant teaching workforce. 

Along with other former TAFE NSW student teachers and advocates, the TCA is using the opportunity to push for reform.

 

Jozefa Sobski, a former deputy director-general of the NSW department of education and training described the ‘OneTAFE’ model as one in opposition to the organisation’s primary objective, specifically to provide services and training relevant to the needs of business, industry and students. 

“My question for the NSW government is: how is TAFE NSW fulfilling its mission?” Ms Sobski asked.

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