Related coverage: Merger aims to grow education sector
BENDIGO education and health leaders say Bendigo TAFE's merger with Kangan Institute will help the city keep up with the latest education technology and meet skill demand.
Premier Denis Napthine announced $64 million towards the combined TAFE in Bendigo yesterday.
Merger plans include a new Centre of Excellence for Health and Human Services, based at Bendigo TAFE's McCrae Street campus.
Bendigo TAFE interim chief executive officer Peter Coyne said the merger was a part of a growth strategy for education in Bendigo.
"To compete we need scale and good investment," Mr Coyne said.
"We've got to attract students by repositioning and that’s what we’re doing with the centre of excellence for health.
"The centre is also a great employment opportunity for Bendigo."
Mr Coyne said the two TAFEs would keep all regional campuses from Melbourne to Echuca, while working to keep them "vibrant".
"As educators we can see the space is changing very quickly," he said.
Mr Coyne said the combined TAFE would offer new learning options for students and modern "blended learning", combining on-campus and online study.
Kangan Institute chief executive officer Grant Sutherland said the state government funding would help the TAFE develop its campuses.
"We will be working towards technology development so we can really compete in the open market," Mr Sutherland said.
"We will provide training in line with what industry needs.
"We will work closely with industry and understand from a regional perspective what the main skills required are."
The merger proposal received support from Bendigo Business Council, Bendigo Health and La Trobe University management.
Bendigo Health chief executive officer John Mulder wrote a letter of support to Dr Napthine on behalf of the organisation, stating the merger would help provide Bendigo's future health workforce.
"There is a general acceptance of the view that the current health system nursing workforce model is unsustainable and that the system will shortly require skilled third-tier workers to support our nursing workforce,'' the letter said.
As educators we can see the space is changing very quickly.
"Without these changes our health system won't be able to cope with the increase in demand that will accompany our ageing population.
"There are also several other health service related careers in the region that will produce demand for training and our local TAFE is ideally placed to play a key role."
Mr Mulder welcomed the proposed centre of excellence for health in the letter.
He said the centre would help Bendigo TAFE support health workforce growth in Bendigo and across the Loddon Mallee region.
La Trobe vice chancellor Professor John Dewar said in a letter of support that the merger offered exciting opportunities to create a financially strong business focussed on "quality flexible delivery of applied learning".
"In particular, it fulfills the primary objective of ensuring that Bendigo and regional Victoria have a sustainable and strong public provider of quality vocational training and education well into the future," he wrote.
"There is a clear geographical proximity between the proposed partners and this relationship offers a natural synergy for linking the communities of the Bendigo region with the northern outskirts of Melbourne."
Bendigo businessman Don Erskine also pledged his support for the merger.
Mr Erskine has been a director on Bendigo TAFE's board and employs tradespeople in the Bendigo region.
He said in a letter to the Premier that the merger would allow Bendigo to specialise in areas including medical support, aged care and e-education.
Mr Erskine said Bendigo was a major growth centre for Victoria and needed to provide training for all major trades.
"The current philosophy of providing some trades and not others due to finance constraints, for example; building and plumbing with no plastering or brick laying is detrimental to growth of the region," he wrote.
"An amalgamation with Kangan will overcome this and...provide a large skill base for the region’s future needs."
Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said the merger was a result of the state government’s $300 million-a-year cuts to technological and further education.
“Bendigo has been one of the areas hardest hit by the state government’s cuts to TAFE," Ms Peace said.
"Most student fees have tripled, student numbers have declined, courses have closed and more than 200 TAFE teachers have lost their jobs at Bendigo TAFE," she said.
“Premier Denis Napthine has trumpeted the merger as “exciting” while saying nothing about the cuts, which have undermined both institutes."
Ms Peace said Bendigo TAFE would be under the control of the metropolitan Kangan Institute.
“This will do nothing to address the fundamental problem that this government refuses to support our public TAFE institutes," she said.
"The proposed merger is still dependent upon the government approving a business strategy for the delivery of courses at the Bendigo campus."
Ms Peace said yesterday's announcement was consistent with the AEU's predictions.
"The state government stated it would not support the recommendation by the TAFE Reform Panel in 2013 that regional TAFEs be merged," she said.
"However, they have since appointed people to TAFE councils who have now come back to government and asked that they be allowed to merge – giving the state government what they actually wanted in the first place."