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TAFE courses hang in the balance

Art students: (Left to right) Janet Kossy, Clare O'Loughlin, Sue Young, Penny Ryan

The NSW Government’s TAFE funding cut reforms are set to have implications far beyond balancing the budget.

With government subsidies for fine arts to be scrapped while course costs will be subject to market rates, student fees could potentially rise up to $10,000. The decision to commercialise TAFE courses means future students – as well as the 4,000 current art students – face uncertainty as their courses continue to hang in the balance.

“My current course finishes in two weeks and we still don’t have any confirmed information yet on course costs, VET fee help arrangements, Austudy eligibility or enrolments for next year,” 39-year-old art student Bettina Purdie said.

Ms Purdie said her course was more than just gaining a diploma; it gave her strength when she needed it most.

“I have been a stay-at-home parent for 18 years … Studying art has been my entry point back in to study,” she said. “It helped me feel more confident, and after a long battle with depression has given me a constructive outlet for my stress and anxiety that is helping me manage better.

“It shows how little the government understands about the needs of our communities and the role of art in those communities.”

Fellow TAFE student Rona Sissons, 57, believes the lack of information provided by TAFE administration is a ploy to squeeze students out of the course and cease it altogether.

“The current feeling in the student body is that TAFE management is stalling on releasing options for next year with a view to reducing student numbers until the course becomes financially unviable to run,” she said.

“It seems entirely possible that the decision as to whether to re-enrol or not may be taken away from me entirely if the course doesn’t run.”

With uncertainty about the future of their courses, students have been forced to apply for different institutes next year.

Penny Ryan, halfway through her Advanced Diploma in Art, is just one of many who might be forced out.

“Because of the announcement of the reduced hours, information about the cuts to teaching staff and the lack of information about the fees … I have applied for National Art School next year,” Ms Ryan said.

“This is not my preferred option. I haven’t finished the advanced diploma [so] I will not get any credit for the three years I have already done and will have to go back to first year. It’s frustrating.”

Students are the not the only ones with an unclear future with the NSW Government having announced 800 TAFE staff will be axed over the next four years.

“Of around 30 art teachers at my particular campus, the 23 part time teachers have been advised to look for new jobs, and most of the seven full-time teachers will be out of work too,” Ms Purdie said. “This will drastically reduce the breadth of experience and knowledge available to students and greatly decrease the quality of their educational experience.”