RMIT students are clearly concerned about TAFE funding cuts and its impact on their learning experience, despite the fact RMIT is no longer labelled a TAFE.
It appears many students aren’t aware that while RMIT University still offers vocational education, it is not a TAFE under Victorian legislation.
In 2013 the Victorian government made legislative changes modifying RMIT as a dual university and TAFE, to a university that provides vocational education. This was also the case for four other universities in Victoria and has been implemented since January 1 2014.
In RMIT’s 2013 annual report tabled in parliament last week, RMIT reported that its net operation result was strong for the university and its subsidiaries at $67.4 million. It found “RMIT University’s operating result was $50.1 million, with revenue of 5.4%”.
But students’ concerns this week were fuelled after reports the higher-education sector had plunged deeply into the red.
The financial watchdog revealed half of Victoria’s TAFEs are running at a loss after $300 million funding cuts to TAFE in 2012.
Harry Hughes, who is studying an Advanced Diploma of Visual Art at RMIT, said, “It’s shocking, it’s really bad. It’s the worst way to go about things.”
RMIT Student Union TAFE Officer Stefanie Kelley said TAFE was vital to a vast range of Victorian industries and funding cuts in recent years had had significant impacts on the ways TAFEs across the state were run.
“This is all a question of priorities. I believe TAFE and other education training facilities to be a high priority as they provide vital services,” she said. “But decreased funding to the TAFE sector has led to most educational institutions moving towards a business model of operation, putting their main priority on the generation of money.
“Because of this, students have ended up at the bottom of the food chain bearing the brunt of almost all changes in the area.”
In a leaked report by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office on Tuesday, The Age discovered seven out of 14 public TAFEs are in deficit, demonstrating the financial growth and health of the TAFE sector has deteriorated.
The documents uncovered show the state government operating contributions for the sector fell by $119 million in 2013. Furthermore, the capital funding for buildings and equipment dropped by $14 million.
“I don’t hear much about the money side of it going on but I do know that there’s been a lot of changes in terms of the course structure,” Hughes said. “Personally for me I find we’re getting less time with teachers [than] we’d like to have.”
Like Harry, some of RMIT’s vocational education students have said there has been a decline in their learning experience in recent years.
“It’s disappointing, because there are so many TAFE students”, said one RMIT student.
Another explained, “It’s the government’s responsibility for our education.”
However, Catalyst understands recent reports are not related to RMIT or RMIT students in vocational education.
While RMIT still receives funding from the government for vocational education, the way it operates is different to sole providers of vocational education, like TAFEs.
Institutions providing only vocational education who are experiencing financial problems include Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE and Bendigo TAFE. Gipps TAFE and Advance TAFE planning to amalgamate with Federation University.