Synod expresses concern for vulnerable people losing access to education
The Uniting Church’s Synod of New South Wales and the ACT on April 14 directed its Moderator, on behalf of the Synod, to call on the New South Wales Government to reconsider the decision to increase TAFE fees and the student concession fee so as not to further exclude disadvantaged people from access to education.
The Synod, meeting at Knox Grammar School, noted that the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, announced in September 2012 that the state education budget would be cut by $1.7 billion over four years from 2013 to 2016.
Course fees for TAFE would increase by 9.5% and the student concession fee would increase from $53 to $100.
Synod was aware of no comprehensive statement available on the impacts of cuts to TAFE courses, services and programs.
However, the Government had indicated 800 jobs would be lost from TAFE.
Synod heard that the announcement of significant funding reductions to the New South Wales Education Budget had raised concern that access to education would become more difficult for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Overwhelmingly, young people from low socioeconomic and disadvantaged backgrounds accessed the vocational education and training (VET) courses offered by TAFE as their only form of tertiary education.
Synod heard that TAFE was the leading publically-funded provider of VET in New South Wales and had been at the forefront of providing second-chance education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Second- chance education sought to re-engage people who have dropped out of the education system, and provide them with pathways back into employment.
Of particular concern was the possibility of cuts to TAFE Outreach Programs.
Outreach programs ensure TAFE NSW education is accessible to people who face barriers to learning such as geographical and social isolation, language and cultural factors, financial hardship, lack of educational confidence, cultural fact ors, living with a disability, family commitments or being in a correctional centre.
The TAFE proposal came before Synod following a report from UnitingCare NSW.ACT. UnitingCare Burnside has a long history of working with TAFE Outreach to support vulnerable people and communities in re-engaging with education and employment.
Burnside’s work demonstrates the integral role second-chance education plays in creating positive outcomes for people experiencing hardship and disadvantage.
In addition to calling on the Government to reconsider the decision to increase TAFE fees, the church’s Moderator, the Rev. Dr Brian Brown, will ask it to
- make a particular commitment to ensuring the ongoing provision of TAFE Outreach courses to disadvantaged people and communities; and
- maintain existing levels of TAFE Specialist Support Services.
Congregations will be encouraged to contact their local State Member, the Premier, and the Minister for Education to urge them to do the same.