$200 million NSW TAFE funding shortfall threatens the future of vocational education

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

After years of neglect by the former government, TAFE NSW has been left with an almost $200m funding shortfall that, if left unaddressed, could result in campus closures, course cuts, job losses and questions about the safety of teachers and students.

According to the NSW Teachers Federation, this funding shortfall comes as no surprise to neglected TAFE teachers, students and employees used to dealing with dwindling resources.

“The shortfall clearly demonstrates the previous government’s experiment of a market-driven funding model for vocational education is an abject failure,” says NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos.

 “This news could not come at a worse time as NSW struggles to reverse skills shortages that are vital to rebuilding NSW after the recent bushfires, floods, pandemic and the current housing crisis.” 

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Despite multiple announcements of record budgets by former Coalition ministers, the reality is that TAFE NSW has been slowly starved of funding and now only receives the same $1.8 billion in funding it received under the last Labor government back in 2011.

Undervalued and underfunded 

Even though TAFE NSW remains an essential long-standing educational institution, Minister Tim Crakanthrop says that a decade of budget cuts has left the public provider operating as a shell of its former self. 

“The former government’s approach to funding TAFE was a game of chicken, underfunding and then providing top-up support at the last-minute time and time again.

“The game of budget chicken isn’t just tiresome, it robs TAFE of the stability it needs to skill the workers of today and prepare themselves for the needs of tomorrow.

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In a recommendation from TAFE NSW to government bodies, it was revealed that the operating budget for the State’s public provider has required a budget adjustment of at least $200 million each year for the last four years to ensure that the basic delivery of services could be maintained.

Without appropriate funding, TAFE NSW will be forced to face course cuts, reduced teacher numbers, campus closures, deteriorating facilities and the neglect of disadvantaged students.

“Budget after budget, the former government has underfunded TAFE NSW”, said Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, “leaving it begging for the funding it requires every year to effectively teach and train people for careers that provide important skills and services for communities across NSW.

“TAFE NSW is skilling up and accrediting the State’s current and future workforce – the builders, IT experts, designers, educators, accountants, business owners and other professionals across a wide range of industries – and deserves the funding to do this effectively.

According to Treasurer Mookhey, this lack of funding has left teachers and students operating from “unsafe” facilities that fail to meet industry standards, with repairs, maintenance and equipment desperately needed.

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The fight for funding

There is still a light at the end of the tunnel as the NSW Government and Commonwealth Government enter into negotiations for a new National Skills Agreement, with the hopes of returning TAFE to its former glory.

Heading into negotiations, the Minns government has committed to:

  • a comprehensive review of the vocational education system to determine the full impact of Coalition cuts and establish a path to rebuilding TAFE;
  • keeping TAFE campuses in public hands;
  • hiring an additional 1,000 apprentices and trainees across the NSW Government by 2026;
  • guaranteeing a minimum of 70 per cent of the Skills budget will go to TAFE;
  • addressing the skills gap through three manufacturing centres of excellence – in Western Sydney, the Hunter, and the Illawarra.

Before the NSW election, the Minns government also pledged to provide TAFE with the financing stability it needs to flourish, starting with a guarantee of at least 70 per cent of vocational education and training funding to TAFE each year.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but the Minns Labor Government is committed to getting TAFE back on track and ensuring it thrives,” said Minister Crakanthrop. 

“The Minns Government must act to restore recurrent funding to TAFE NSW and put an end to the funding uncertainty of the last 12 years,” Mr Gavrielatos said. “It must abolish the Smart and Skilled funding model.” 

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“TAFE funding must be a priority, it is central to quality of life and future growth of the NSW economy and a skilled workforce.”

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.