THE LEONGATHA campus of Community College Gippsland (CCG) is facing an uncertain future in the wake of the State Government’s free TAFE course announcements.
Under the Labor Government’s plan, announced as part of the 2018/19 budget package in May, up to 30 TAFE courses in priority areas will be available to study free of charge from 2019.
Included in the list of free courses is
Certificate III in Individual Support, currently the most popular course on offer at CCG
But that’s not the good news it sounds like for CCG, one of two training organisations in Leongatha offering the course.
That’s because CCG, as a ‘Learn Local’ organisation, does not qualify for the free TAFE funding, meaning that fees of $800 up to $5000 will still apply for anyone wishing to enrol in accredited courses offered there in the future.
Federation Training in Leongatha, on the other hand, does qualify for the free TAFE funding, and will offer some of the same courses as CCG, including Certificate III in Individual Support, free of charge from 2019.
CCG’s director of Education and Training Tracel Devereux said there’s a real concern CCG will struggle to attract students to enrol at its Leongatha campus when there’s another provider nearby offering the same training
“This is a concern for all non-TAFE training providers in the region,” Ms Devereux said.
“Almost all potential students have to consider cost as part of their decision making and Leongatha has a viable alternative in the same area offering the same training for free.”
The impacts of the free TAFE announcements are already being felt at CCG Leongatha, with Ms Devereux saying potential students, who may have enrolled in Certificate III in Individual Support for the second semester this year, appear to be deferring enrolment until 2019.
“These students are likely to choose a TAFE provider because of the difference in the fees,” she said.
Ms Devereux said CCG has not been offered any extra government support to ensure it can remain operational in the face of such competition and has been disappointed with the Labor Government’s apparent lack of consideration for Learn Locals when making the free TAFE announcements.
“There have been extensive discussions including both sides of government and peak bodies and while there have been strong statements of commitment to Learn Locals, there has been no final word on what, if any, support could be made available to make Learn Local courses sustainable in the current environment,” she said.
And while closure of the Leongatha campus is not on the cards at this stage, Ms Devereux said the TAFE changes will have a “significant impact” on CCG and all non-TAFE Registered Training Organisations [RTOs] and “could potentially lead to a reduction in the number of training providers offering the priority courses in the region”.
Ms Devereux said CCG is committed to maintaining and building its training in South Gippsland but has been forced to consider new approaches to training delivery in order to continue to attract enrolments, including diversifying its course offering, and extending training directly into smaller regional centres where local delivery will meet community needs.
“There are a number of smaller communities such as Fish Creek and Cowes that do not have training providers based in the town and for whom travel may be a bigger issue than the actual fees,” she said.
“We’re investigating the demand for locally based training using community facilities and sending the trainer to the students. How successful this is will depend on demand.”
An asset to the community
CCG is the only Learn Local organisation in Leongatha and offers a broad range of study options including VCE and VCAL subjects, accredited (TAFE) courses, apprenticeships and traineeships, and short courses.
CCG Leongatha VET Manager Bridget Cornish said Learn Locals are an indispensable alternative to TAFEs because they’re not for profit organisations with a “no turn away policy”.
“If there’s a course someone’s interested in, but they don’t have the skills to get in, we’ll find a way,” she said.
This includes offering ‘Foundation’ or pre-accredited courses specifically designed as a pathway to higher-level study for marginalised and disadvantaged people, such as those living with disabilities, early school leavers, migrants and victims of domestic violence.
Ms Cornish said CCG Leongatha, over its six years on Howard Street, had evolved beyond a training provider to a community hub, with many services and organisations, including Latrobe Regional Health (delivering the NDIS), Yooralla, the Leongatha Youth Access Clinic and the Leongatha Farmers’ Market, enjoying the use of its facilities.
“If it helps the community, we’ll get on board,” Ms Cornish said.
A recent visit to CCG Leongatha found
students who’d previously struggled to access education for various reasons, and who said they’d found a sense of community at the college.
“The first day we got here, we were all overwhelmed,” said Chantel, a Certificate III in Individual Support student about to embark on placement in a local aged care facility.
“It was the first time a lot of us had been back to study for a long time, but by the
third or fourth lesson, we were a lot more comfortable.
“The staff are really supportive and understanding of students’ needs and because the class is small, it’s more personalised, and we’ve all become close friends. And we’ve learnt a lot more than we thought we would,” she said.
But while Chantel and her Individual Support classmates praised CCG’s culture, teaching staff, and range of on-site support services such as counselling, they also commented on learning resources and training equipment in need of updating.
CCG Leongatha receives funding from Skills First, the Australian Centre of Further Education (ACFE) and the Department of Education and Training, but according to VET Manager Julie Thomas, the college relies on donations from the community for much of its training equipment.
Labor’s lack of answers
When contacted for comment on CCG
Leongatha’s situation, Labor’s member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing referred the Sentinel-Times’ questions to the office of
the Minister for Training and Skills, Gayle Tierney.
A spokesperson for Ms Tierney said the Andrews Government was “absolutely committed” to Learn Locals and the “vital” work they do, and would “support the sector to ensure that they continue to be the trusted providers of pre-accredited training in our communities, and ensure opportunities for pathways between Learn Locals and TAFE are strengthened.”
That support would come from $303 million allocated to private RTOs, Learn Locals and TAFEs in the 2018/19 state budget, the spokesperson said.