I don’t often get political on you, but honestly I’m in despair. TAFE (Training and Further Education for those not in the know, i.e. education that fills the gap between the achievements of school and the ambitions of university) bore the brunt of some heavy New South Wales cost-cutting last week with the announcement of massive slashes in budgets and a withdrawal of governmental support for Visual Arts courses (which includes ceramics and sculpture) on the basis that such courses don’t lead to employment.
On the one hand NSW TAFE Executive has been preparing TAFE institutions for the promise of such cuts for a while and we’re all in the middle of strategic initiatives designed to ensure that we’re all lean, mean machines delivering high quality education outcomes on minimal budgets – you know the sort of lingo – it removes the listener from the reality of a passionate and inspirational teacher making a real difference in a classroom. On the other hand we weren’t expecting the changes until 2014. Ouch.
Visual Arts copped it hardest: Visual Arts courses will no longer attract State subsidies, putting them well beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest of students who might be able to pay “commercial rates”. But in a double-whammy, the State government also announced that under the new “entitlement funding model” where the money goes to the student who can now wave a ‘voucher’ that ‘entitles’ them to a subsidised course, students will have NO entitlement to a Visual Arts course. Ouuchhhhh.
Working at TAFE this week has been, shall we say, difficult. We’re all in shock as the reality of the new situation sinks in. We’re all looking at each other, knowing that redundancies are on the way for the lucky few with a permanent (or temporary) employment contract, while the rest of us part-time casual teachers will simply fade out without any compensatory payments. Meanwhile we’re supposed to “remain as positive as possible” for the sake of our poor students, most of whom are now stumbling through their courses knowing that there is no possibility of attempting a higher level of learning next year. Bang! The door has shut, despite much trumpeting about the value of “Creative Industries”” in contributing $20 billion to Australia each year. Bang! Who cares? TAFE will be reduced to providing courses in response to identified skills shortages only, with the possible optional extra of becoming a jobs brokerage.
I’ve written to my local State and Federal MPs, of course, together with party leaders, opposition education spokespeople and the like but I haven’t received so much as an acknowledgement of receipt so far. If you care about arts education in New South Wales you may be motivated to follow this link and print off a page to get a local petition going, since on-line petitions – whilst valuable – aren’t what forces the government to raise the issue in Parliament.
I’m actually too tired to argue with you about the value of the arts, the role of TAFE, and just how wrong this all is. I feel thoroughly demoralised, and I’m remembering – with a wry smile – how happy I was only a few weeks ago to think that next year we would be a two-income family again. Anyway, I’ll be ‘trying to be positive’ tomorrow as I teach printmaking to a Diploma group that has just found out it will have to fork out a LOT extra in order to complete their second year of study – if, that is, they feel it’s worth it now – if they wish to leave TAFE with a piece of paper that says they’re qualified to Diploma level in Visual Arts and Contemporary Craft.