Clear message from Nowra TAFE forum

In the federal electorate of Gilmore, attendees at a community forum had a strong message to send: a well-resourced and properly funded TAFE is vital in regional areas such as the Shoalhaven.

Businessman Ron Arthur, owner of Nowra Truck and Tractor, told the forum of his concerns at the loss of skilled teachers and the decline in trades he has experienced in more than 30 years in local business.

Mr Arthur argued that competency-based training was detrimental to developing practical skills as it didn’t allow time for students to learn. The decline in regional TAFE colleges was a real concern as “TAFE is a public asset”.

Mr Arthur said he will continue to work to have well-funded public education to produce quality teaching and learning.

The forum, hosted by NSW Teachers Federation on 1 November at Bomaderry Bowling Club, attracted 45 participants from local businesses, TAFE and the community.

Speakers included Federation President Maurie Mulheron, local business owners Scott Baxter and Mr Arthur, Foti Loupos and Holly Pastor from Nowra and Bomaderry high schools, Community and Public Sector Union Organiser Shane Jobberns and three current TAFE students.

Participants were presented with passionate speeches and personal stories of how TAFE has helped shape lives and provided a stepping stone into new vocations and experiences.

Scott Baxter, a Director of South Coast Ray White Real Estate offices, was critical of the move to increase correspondence and online training for regional TAFE students.

He preferred “face to face” teaching, with regional local TAFE colleges essential as students don’t have the choice to study vocational education at other private colleges.

The student presenters gave important insight into access to a local TAFE college and the importance of an adult education environment with high-quality teachers that give guidance, expertise and support.

All three students specifically mentioned individual teachers that have assisted their TAFE studies. The students explained that regional students are at a disadvantage compared with metropolitan students.

Class hours are decreased at Nowra College if students withdraw from their course. This is a fundamental flaw in contestable funding and the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled policy. Diploma courses are too expensive for many students in Nowra, which is driving down class delivery hours.

Nowra High School assistant principal Foti Loupos and Bomaderry careers counsellor Holly Pastor discussed their concern at the loss of Outreach programs when the Nowra TAFE Outreach coordinator position was deleted.

The Shoalhaven region has the second-highest level of youth unemployment and needs programs to ensure its students are not marginalised. The students highlighted the problems facing disadvantaged students, with the new funding for school-based vocational education focused on dollars not education.

They were concerned by the new language of contestable funding, which refers to students as clients and to courses as commercial products. They were clear that Shoalhaven school students need pre-apprenticeships now and concerned that TAFE is being set up to fail, saying funding must return to the local focus of previously and not central control.

Mr Mulheron concluded the forum with a clear statement that the Federal Government policy of contestable funding has failed and must be replaced.

He said there is a clear choice for voters in the coming federal election between the Morrison Government, which is continuing the policy, and Labor, which will replace contestable funding with a guarantee of two-thirds government funding for TAFE students.

It is not too late to join the campaign to Stop TAFE Cuts, especially with the federal and state elections fast approaching. The campaign has planned a number of different activities and actions in which Federation and community members can be involved in various capacities.

If you want to know more about how you can contribute to the campaign, please email [email protected].

Rob Long is a TAFE Organiser and Annette Bennett is a TAFE Project Officer