'Shortsighted': More TAFE closures feared

An international report on vocational education has used Australia as an example of how fast public education institutions can be privatised, amid growing concerns that TAFE NSW is moving to sell off more sites.

"In the state of NSW, government funding cutbacks and fee increases have led to steep declines in enrolments in TAFE and one third of the TAFE workforce have lost their jobs over recent years, with more jobs to go," according to the report Global Trends in Technical and Vocational Education and Training, commissioned by Education International.

"Australia offers a particularly salutary and sobering example of how fast policies that foster privatisation can lead to the deinstitutionalisation of public vocational education institutes," said the report, which was presented at the national TAFE conference.

In NSW, government reforms and funding changes have been blamed for TAFE losing up to 100,000 students and 5000 jobs since 2012 as well as the sale and closure of a number of TAFE campuses.

It comes as TAFE NSW is advertising for a "Divestment Portfolio Manager" to "lead, oversee and co-ordinate the portfolio of divestment projects from initiation to closure".

The appointment "rings alarm bells", said the president of the NSW Teachers' Federation, Maurie Mulheron.

"[I've never seen] anything so blatant," Mr Mulheron said. "It's a position that will be selling off public assets that TAFE owns. It suggests the government is going to maintain a declining investment in TAFE."

There are particular concerns about plans to sell-off the TAFE Meadowbank and Belmont campuses, with the word "divestment" appearing next to both in a list of potential heritage items provided by TAFE NSW as part of a market tender.

"Once you lose those assets, you never get them back," Mr Mulheron said.

"We've seen the government sell off school sites in the past and then turn around and have no land to buy back. Any divestment like that would be shortsighted."

A spokesman for TAFE NSW did not respond directly to questions about the future of the Meadowbank and Belmont campuses, but said that "no asset is divested without full and thorough assessment into its utlilisation or potential future need".

"Where vacant land or under-utilised facilities are sold the proceeds will be reinvested into modernising and improving TAFE NSW facilities," the spokesman said.

He said the recruitment is part of the agency's amalgamation of 10 separate TAFE bodies and that "similar roles and functions were previously part of the 10 former TAFE NSW Institute structures".

"Just like every organisation with a large and diverse property portfolio, TAFE NSW has always engaged experts to strategically manage its assets," the spokesman said.

The NSW Labor opposition's skills spokeswoman Prue Carr said that "the community has every right to be worried about campus sales".

This story 'Shortsighted': More TAFE closures feared first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.