National survey reveals impact of TAFE budget cuts

More than three-quarters of TAFE staff have considered leaving in the past three years, according to the results of a national survey released today.

The Australian Education Union’s (AEU) 2020 State of our TAFEs survey, the first detailed snapshot of the sector for a decade, has revealed the impact that billions of dollars of Commonwealth and state and territory budget cuts have had on the sector.

The survey also revealed major issues with workload, resourcing, and lack of staff support.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that TAFE urgently required investment from all levels of government to ensure that it can deliver high quality vocational education and be at the forefront of Australia’s post COVID-19 recovery. 

According to the survey:

  • More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) were aware that their institution had stopped providing particular courses in the last three years, with a lack of funding cited as the most common reason for course closure.
  • 81% of respondents said that the budget in their department had decreased in the last three years, while nearly half (49%) of those in teaching roles said class sizes had increased. 
  • Improved IT equipment (54%) and materials needed to deliver training (50%) were most frequently cited as requiring significant additional investment to bring up to standard.
  • Current levels of TAFE capital works and equipment investment were considered inadequate and requiring of some or significant investment by the vast majority of respondents, across the survey categories of IT equipment (88%), material support for workplace delivery (to deliver training) (89%), technical and administration equipment (90%), classrooms (81%), trade equipment (91%), studio equipment (75%) and library/learning centre (61%).
  • More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents said that they had considered leaving the sector in the last three years.  94% of those were currently working in the job that they had considered leaving.
  • Less than a third of respondents expected to spend their entire career working in TAFE. 
  • Workload and excessive hours, management approach to, and lack of support for, staff and arduous compliance requirements were the most commonly cited reasons for wanting to leave.
  • 96% of respondents said administration had increased as a proportion of total work time in the last three years, and of these 84% said it had increased significantly.

Ms Haythorpe said that budget cuts at all levels of government had led to the total number of TAFEs falling to 35 nationally in 2017-18, down from 57 in 2013/14. She said the subsequent campus and course closures have had a detrimental impact on students and staff, leading to increased workloads and low morale.

According to the Report on Government Services, total annual government VET expenditure has fallen by $1.6 billion (21.3%) from the 2012 peak of $7.65 billion. 

Since 2013, the federal Liberal-National government:

  • cut $3 billion from vocational education 
  • oversaw 140,000 fewer apprentices now than when it was elected
  • closed the $3.9 billion Education Investment Fund 
  • cut a further $325.8 million in funding from TAFE and vocational education budgets In 2019

Ms Haythorpe said that it was essential that funding and prominence be restored to TAFE in acknowledgement of the organisation’s unique position and ability to provide hope, opportunity and lifelong qualifications and skills for millions of Australians. 

“Three-quarters of respondents to our State of our TAFEs survey have said they have considered leaving TAFE in the past three years, with nearly three-quarters of respondents reporting unmanageable workloads at least half of the time,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This is a wakeup call to governments across the nation.

“Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, Australia will have an urgent need for qualified workers across all industries, and TAFE is the only institution that has the infrastructure, the workforce and the trusted reputation to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“We need to invest in TAFE as the anchor institution of vocational education, to ensure that it is the centrepiece of the effort to rebuild Australia’s economy.

“Australia’s TAFE teachers stand ready to help the nation get back on its feet, but the government needs to back them with the funding and vocational education policy support needed for the sector.

“TAFE offers high quality vocational education at all levels, with nationally accredited programs, a highly qualified and experienced workforce, campuses across Australia, and it has the trust and respect of employers and the community.

“A strong, fully-funded TAFE sector must be at the centre of the Commonwealth’s response to the economic challenges facing Australia post COVID-19,” Ms Haythorpe said.