Sunday, July 15, 2012


Our CIT must be properly supported and funded Glenn Fowler July 2, 2012

Services from this treasured Canberra institution are suffering, GLENN FOWLER writes...

There is no valid excuse for bullying another human being, and the contents of this opinion piece should not in any way be interpreted as such. It is, however, important for us to consider why reasonable people under certain pressures may do unreasonable things, particularly in the context of the deeply unfortunate tarnishing of the name of one of the ACT's most treasured institutions, the Canberra Institute of Technology, as it strives to meet its obligations under ACT Worksafe's Improvement Notice before October this year.

It is a sad reflection on governmental support for TAFEs across the country that a reduction in funding in real terms (from all funding sources) of the ACT's TAFE in excess of 33 per cent since 1997 is only the fourth-worst in the nation. We should not judge the ACT's support for its primary Vocational Education and Training provider by the standards of the other states and territories, which are currently involved in a neo-liberal race to the bottom. If we were truly ''the clever country'', we would recognise that education and training of a nation's citizenry is a smart investment, not a burden to be borne, especially as we are in the midst of a skills shortage.

Try telling that to the Baillieu government in Victoria, currently in the gold medal position in that race to the bottom, which has just dismantled the final vestiges of support for the public provider, handing the whole sector over to the ruthlessness of the market, and expecting TAFE's high-quality delivery to pit itself against that of dodgy profiteers offering diplomas in four days. Perhaps we could all rest a little easier if private training providers were obliged to provide second-chance learning opportunities and youth services for disconnected school-age students, indigenous education and support, careers support and counselling, student accommodation, legal services, debt management assistance, disability support and migrant support. They are not, and it is TAFE colleges like CIT that we rely on to support the community and provide these crucial social benefits.

For years, the centres have been largely autonomous and, in a potential lesson for school systems that want to go down such a path, these individual business units have been autonomously beavering away to deliver cost savings to government at the expense of the job satisfaction of their teaching workforce. The extent of the ''efficiencies'' is inherently hard to quantify under a devolved model, but it is likely that some class sizes have increased by about 50 per cent in the last decade. An analysis of the ratio of annual contact hours (720 hours) versus nominal hours (hours allocated for students to complete a course) for permanent full-time teachers in the decade preceding 2008 shows that workload doubled every four to five years during that period.

Student contact hours have been significantly reduced in many areas as students are moved towards online learning (which, ideally, supplements and doesn't replace delivery by qualified teachers). In fact, some programs are delivered almost wholly online. Middle management (Band 2 teacher) positions across the Centres have been more than halved since the year 2000, placing far greater administrative demands on CIT's teachers and diverting them from their core business of teaching students. 

Not only are CIT teachers overrepresented when it comes to formal complaints made to the Work Safety Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Administration (there are now dozens), but their morale is low and getting lower. Almost four years ago, in July 2008, the Australian Education Union (AEU) discovered through a member survey that 71 per cent of CIT teaching staff had considered leaving their jobs in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Furthermore, 69 per cent of the teachers surveyed cited workplace stress as the issue of greatest concern, the most common cause of which was an unacceptably high workload. This information has been provided to the ACT Government through the union's last few annual budget submissions, so it is not as if nobody has known about it.

In October we have an ACT election. When it comes to funding our CIT, there can be no more ''business as usual'' in the form of funding shortfalls. It is of concern that the most recent ACT budget identified ''efficiency savings'' of $9.47 million over the next four years. This is another step in the wrong direction. From the aspiring candidates in the election, we need recognition that the current funding trajectory is not acceptable, that it is quite okay to buck the national trend of neglect, and that CIT is an institution worthy of serious commitment and profound tangible support. The staff, students and ACT community deserve nothing less.

Glenn Fowler is acting secretary of the Australian Education Union - ACT Branch.

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I have posted the opinion piece above in full and welcome comments on it. In future blogs I will tease out some of the issues myself as well.


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