TAFE fee shock: Student wanting to retrain told to pay thousands upfront for course

Starting over: Luke Gover is studying for a new career in the building industry. Picture: Jane Dyson
Starting over: Luke Gover is studying for a new career in the building industry. Picture: Jane Dyson

A CARINGBAH man who sought to retrain by enrolling in a carpentry and cabinet-making course at Gymea TAFE was shocked to be told he had to pay an upfront fee of $14,300.

It was only after Luke Gover contacted the Leader and Cronulla MP Mark Speakman that TAFE agreed to let him pay by instalments and obtain a refund if he secured an apprenticeship.

Mr Gover said he began the carpentry and cabinet-making course in February while looking for an apprenticeship in the building industry.

"Three weeks into the course, I was told I had just one week to find an apprenticeship or pay $14,300 up front," he said.

Mr Gover said he was prepared to pay the fee but thought he should be able to pay by the term and given a refund if he secured an apprenticeship.

"They said they couldn't allow that."

After the decision was reversed, Mr Gover said he was pleased but felt it "it should never have happened".

"The government talks about people needing to be prepared to retrain and then they put obstacles like this in your way," he said.

Labor and the unions have focused on cuts to TAFE courses and higher fees during the state election campaign.

The introduction this year of Smart and Skilled, the revamped NSW Vocational Education and Training (VET) system, resulted in government subsidies for eligible students to attend private training colleges. Subsidies for some TAFE courses were removed.

Labor candidate for Miranda Greg Holland said courses at Gymea TAFE had fallen by 40 per cent and some fees were "astronomical" (see below).

Mr Gover, a graphic designer for 26 years, decided on a career change because of the difficulty in keeping abreast of new technology while running a business from home.

‘‘Just because I am 45 doesn’t mean I am physically incapable of working in a new field, which I have been interested in for a long time,’’ said Mr Gover, who is married with two young children.

‘‘I keep in shape and I am sharper in the mind than I was when I first went to TAFE 26 years ago.’’

Mr Gover continues to look for an employer who will offer him an apprenticeship.

BIG INCREASES

Examples of TAFE fee increases given by Miranda Labor candidate Greg Holland and Heathcote candidates Maryanne Stuart (Labor) and Natasha Watson (The Greens):

 Certificate III hairdressing course at Gymea TAFE for non-apprenticeship students has risen from $1676 to $9970.

 Certificate III course in aged care has increased from $419 to $1440. Students who have previously acquired higher certificate pay $6100.

 Certificate III fitness course, which previously cost $838, is only available at Loftus TAFE at a cost of $5230.

MINISTER'S SAY

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said the new system had provided 60,000 extra training places this year.

‘‘The percentage of the total VET government budget that is contestable [open to tender by both TAFE and private providers] is comparatively small, about 19 percent in 2014-15,’’ he said.

“Labor has zero credibility [in this area] because under the former Labor government, fee increases were in excess of 200 percent over all award levels and certificate IVs had increases in excess of 500 percent.’’

Liberal MP for Cronulla Mark Speakman told last month’s business forum the government was ‘‘absolutely’’ committed to the best-quality education in schools and vocational and educational training.

Mr Speakman said that in the past two years funding for TAFE had remained stable, while spending on vocational and educational training (VET) had increased 11 percent.

He said 90 to 95 percent of TAFE courses that were previously subsidised remained so and the typical charge for a student who had an apprenticeship was $2000 for the entire course.

CANDIDATE SLAMS EXPENSIVE COURSES

Election briefing: from left, Sharryn Usher (NSW Teachers Federation), Natasha Watson (Greens), Maryanne Stuart (Labor), Rob Long (Teachers Federation), Michael Pugh ( Sutherland Community Unions), Phill Chadwick (Teachers Federation).

Election briefing: from left, Sharryn Usher (NSW Teachers Federation), Natasha Watson (Greens), Maryanne Stuart (Labor), Rob Long (Teachers Federation), Michael Pugh ( Sutherland Community Unions), Phill Chadwick (Teachers Federation).

LABOR candidate for Heathcote Maryanne Stuart said while there was a place for registered training organisations and private providers, TAFE’s ‘‘very, very long’’ history needed to be recognised.

‘‘TAFE has been an institution for more than 100 years. The trade skills it has provided has built this state and that’s why so many people want to preserve it,’’ she said.

Mr Stuart said one young man who she found at a loose end in the middle of the day told her, ‘‘I hope to go to TAFE, but we can’t afford it’’.

‘‘When I hear that, we have a problem,’’ she said.

Cronulla MP Mark Speakman said fees for courses beyond the basic level were significantly higher, but, as with university, student loans were available that didn’t have to be repaid until income reached $51,000 a year.

What do you think of the changes to vocational training?  Have you had a similar experience?

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