Leaked ‘draft’ letter prompts concerns for TAFE students

TAFE SA staff have been told of a plan that could see students’ accounts closed or force them into full fee paying courses under changes to the sector from next year.

Dec 14, 2020, updated Dec 14, 2020
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

But the organisation’s chief executive insists it was only a “draft” proposal and the information is “inaccurate”.

InDaily has been leaked a draft letter, asking students enrolled in courses that are being cut for new students from next year to confirm their study intentions.

The letter says if students intend to complete their qualification, they need to contact TAFE by January 22.

Students are not told what will happen if they fail to do so.

But an email sent from a TAFE manager to staff, seen by InDaily, says “if students do not respond to the letter there (sic) accounts will be closed off”.

“If they respond after the due date they will be offered a FFP (full fee payment) place or another RTO (registered training organisation) to complete their training,” the email states.

“All students that contact TAFE will be required to complete their qualifications in an agreed time frame (yet to be determined).”

The email goes on to explain that “this letter to continuing subsidised students is an attempt to understand ‘who is actually an active subsidised student’ and who has a training account but (is) not an active student”.

“In short: DiS (Department for Innovation and Skills) no longer want TAFE to deliver some subsidised qualifications as we know,” the email states.

“TAFE has to go to DiS with a teach out plan.”

In October, TAFE SA announced 20 courses would be scrapped from metro campuses next year, after InDaily revealed concerns from the Australian Education Union that many courses were at risk.

Opposition education spokesman Blair Boyer said this latest development was “just another step in completely destroying TAFE”.

“The chain of emails confirms the Government’s plan to reduce TAFE just to a niche provider or bit player in training by cutting courses and removing subsidies for existing courses,” Boyer said.

“They’re doing it in a really undermining manner by putting the onus on students to explain why they shouldn’t be full fee paying… rather than the onus being on TAFE to make sure they only contact the right students.”

In the email chain, one lecturer asks “why would students need to contact anyone, should we not just be saying to them ‘timetables will be out as normal’… for them to register in as they always have”?

Another lecturer seeks to clarify that the letter applies only to students that are currently studying under a subsidised fee.

The manager replies “yes” but goes on to say: “BUT there are bound to be students contacted that shouldn’t be, it’s TAFE. We will need to manage this if and when it happens.”

Boyer said he was concerned “some people who shouldn’t be moved across to full fee paying will be”.

“The email chain says there will be errors,” he said.

“Over the Christmas period inevitably there will be people who completely miss the email and they are not going to see it until they come back.”

Australian Education Union state president Lara Golding said “TAFE staff are under significant pressure working to support students in the context of devastating course cuts”.

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“Students deserve to know exactly what is happening with their courses and if there are new time restrictions on completing their courses,” she said.

“Students have trusted TAFE with their time and money, commencing courses that are meaningful in their lives. It is only fair that they are able to complete those courses under the same arrangements as they started.”

Golding said in addition to the course cuts announced in October, lecturers were reporting that other courses would be cancelled if strict minimum enrolment numbers were not met.

She said students were usually provided with a timetable late in January to enrol in specific subjects.

“Asking students to indicate whether they will be proceeding earlier in the year is a departure from usual practice,” she said.

“Unless the Government is considering cancelling courses mid-way through and preventing students from completing their studies, why are they asking for their intentions?”

TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman said “the letter being referred to is a draft working document of a TAFE SA staff member”.

“The information in it is inaccurate and it has not been distributed to students,” he said.

Coltman said TAFE SA was committed to supporting students “to ensure their learning needs are met”.

“We communicate with our students over the summer break to help us meet their future study needs,” he said.

“TAFE SA will be surveying students in January to confirm their future study plans. TAFE SA will be scheduling information and enrolment events for returning students before the semester commences. These are standard practices.”

Coltman said if a student does not respond to letters about their future study plans “TAFE SA follows-up with other communication requests, including email and direct phone calls”.

“Student accounts are not closed unless the student requests TAFE SA to do so, or multiple unsuccessful attempts have been made to contact the student,” he said.

“There is no proposal in place to ask students to transfer to full fee paying arrangements.”

Asked to confirm the minimum enrolment requirements for courses next year and what would happen if those numbers weren’t reached, Coltman said “every course has different requirements”.

“This will depend on the developmental needs of the learners, the type of course, if there are other providers of the course, the facilities required, where and how the course is delivered,” he said.

As well as court cuts, TAFE SA has announced 21 “new” courses from next year but the union claims only six will actually be new – with the rest updated versions of existing courses, which is a mandated requirement.

Innovation and Skills Minister David Pisoni has previously defended the TAFE restructure, saying the government went to the last election “promising contestability” in the vocational education and training sector.

“This policy and additional funding has delivered nation-leading growth in apprenticeships and traineeships,” he said.

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