Several thousand unionists and students rallied outside the office of Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, on May 10 in protest at a $160 million cut to TAFE education.

The bulk of the rally was made up of TAFE teachers, members of the Australian Education Union, and members of the National Tertiary Education Union, which covers admin workers in TAFEs.

But there were also delegations from the construction workers’ CFMEU, the Australian Nursing Federation, the manufacturing workers’ AMWU and the Independent Education Union.

The cuts will not just lead to hundreds of job losses across the state, and higher fees for students in many of the remaining courses, but will dramatically deepen the privatisation of TAFE begun under the previous Victorian Labor government.

Labor’s “reform” was to allow private colleges access to the same funding per student as public TAFEs (which include sections of four universities—Victoria University, RMIT, Ballarat and Swinburne).

Brian MacDonald, former head of Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE, told The Age: “A year ago there were 200 private providers, now there are about 450.

Say no to TAFE privatisation

“Courses in TAFE that might take 400 hours are being delivered in 30. This private sector is really poorly regulated. Some of these bits of paper are worthless to employers … yet the providers are getting government funding.”

The Liberals are making cuts in three ways. They are refusing to provide the money promised by Labor to cover AEU members’ pay rises in 2013. This will, for example, hack $11 million from RMIT’s budget.

They are increasing funding for some courses, but slashing it for many others, to about $2 per student for an hour of teaching. And they are simply discontinuing maintenance grants for state-owned TAFE properties.

TAFEs offer better facilities and better teaching, but in many cases will not be able to compete with dodgy private colleges on price. The public courses that survive will be those in high enough demand for TAFEs and universities to be able to increase fees. Either way, students will suffer, many of them refugees or new migrants.

Officials told the protest on May 10 that there would be more rallies. But we need to go further, laying the basis for strikes alongside AEU members in schools and NTEU members in universities, who are all moving into bargaining mode.

An NTEU member

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