Written by Gerard Dwyer - CIT teacher, student & organiser
Numbers matter. And for public VET funding, the number that matters is 70. To be precise, we need guarantees from all political parties that 70% of government funding will go to TAFE and our local incarnation, CIT. Sometimes politicians try to twist and turn numbers. They will say, “We’ve committed $2 billion to TAFE”. Or, even more damning, they avoid numbers altogether and say something like, “We will support TAFE to be competitive in the national market”.
When these statements are missing that crucial number, 70%, they are meaningless promises. They are like the half-truth or outright lies that pepper some people’s resumes. Oh, you have taught across all education sectors? Well, I spoke at a seminar at CIT once, so I figured that was my tick for public education.
No politician wants to be frank and honest. No politician will stand up and say, “We gutted TAFE by giving public money to private providers. Then we found out those private providers were rorting the system and taking billions of dollars of public money for student enrolments.”
It’s hard enough to hear about the public money pouring into the profit-margins of private businesses when we are resource scant at TAFE. If the politicians’ were truly honest, however, they would continue by saying, “A lot of these students didn’t graduate and, if they did, many were awarded sub-standard qualifications that we have now revoked. We’ve given Australia a generation of students who have been left behind, students who don’t have skills in a skills economy, because we failed them.”
Luckily, in the ACT, we’ve been somewhat sheltered from the storm. At this stage, CIT still receives over 70% of ACT Government VET funding. This is in stark contrast to South Australia and Victoria, whose Conservative governments heartily embraced government funding for private providers. Our cousins in the south are now trying to reverse the trend (To give them credit, their politicians have given some small admissions of guilt in the process).
Even with over 70% of the funding in the ACT, CIT is under budgetary pressures. When teachers are cut, they are not replaced. We teachers who stay are expected to pick up the slack, take on new roles that we haven’t done before and increase our workload.
The pressure of CIT’s RTO re-registration is felt across the organisation. Once again, teachers are expected to pick up more work without more resources, and work like super-humans to complete it in our work hours. Instead, it inevitably leeches into our own personal time and private lives.
When you’re in the headlights of a whole sector under attack, and you’re in fight or flight mode, it’s hard to put the positive stories at the forefront of your mind. The threat overshadows why we do our jobs in the first place. But it’s the lives that are changed by CIT – it’s my life that has changed because of CIT – that makes the fight worth it.
It’s the Indigenous student from central NSW who is the first Indigenous person to be educated in her area. CIT was her first opportunity for higher education and she chased it. She left her community in rural Australia and moved to Canberra because she saw how CIT would change her life.
It’s the alcoholic and drug addict who, when he thought he was on the edge of death, turned his life around. Now sober and clean, he is studying to be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation worker. CIT has saved his life.
As much as it’s about the lives we hace changed, it’s also about the incomparably high quality education for vocational education and training. While some private providers are having their degrees revoked, students at CIT are getting jobs before they even finish their courses. In the area I work, in environmental science, students are regularly offered jobs before gaining their qualifications.
Our message is loud and clear – politicians, don’t gamble with TAFE and CIT. The risks are too high and there isn’t a pay off. If you play politics with public CIT funding, you’re failing a generation.
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