TAFEs and university enter merger talks

REPORTS that Bendigo TAFE could form a “super TAFE” with six other institutions have shocked stakeholders and angered a Labor MP.

Ballarat’s The Courier yesterday revealed Ballarat University was in talks with six TAFEs to form a new partnership as early as next year.

The proposed partnership would include Bendigo TAFE, Sunraysia TAFE, GippsTAFE, Advance TAFE, Wodonga TAFE and GOTAFE to offer Vocational Education and Training subjects.

“University of Ballarat’s vice-chancellor Professor David Battersby said the move may be an opportunity to rebuild the cash-stripped VET sector in the future,” the article stated.

The Bendigo Advertiser understands the publication of the talks came as a shock to TAFE stakeholders.

Labor MP Maree Edwards described the reports as “alarming” and said “Bendigo TAFE should stay as Bendigo TAFE”. Bendigo TAFE communications manager John Rossi yesterday dismissed the merger reports as “just talk”.

“That’s all it is as far as we’re concerned at the moment,” he said. “The conversations have been had, but for now it is business as usual.”

Mr Rossi said it was common for Bendigo to collaborate with other regional campuses, including the network of TAFE institutes rumoured to combine under one umbrella.

He said this was part of a dual-sector partnership between campuses, which ensured each provided quality services and engagement within the community.

“It’s all about ensuring that we deliver for the region,” Mr Rossi said.

“We have discussions with them to see how we can help each other’s students.”

Ms Edwards levelled the blame at the state government.

“Bendigo TAFE has long been the centre of skills training and education for thousands of students in Bendigo and the region. But with its back to the wall because of the Liberal National government’s harsh and ill thought out budget cuts its future as a Bendigo institution may be at risk,” she said.

“It is time the Baillieu Ryan government realised that their decimation of our public TAFE system is vastly unpopular and reversed their decision to slash $290 million from the sector.”

The government argues that it would increase TAFE funding by $1 billion during the next four years. Bendigo TAFE chief executive Maria Simpson announced in June that her organisation would make 100 staff redundant and cut 39 courses by the end of the year.

She said the state government had wiped $9 million from Bendigo TAFE’s annual budget

Ms Edwards last month launched a petition calling on the state government to reinstate TAFE funding.

Yesterday, she urged people to sign her petition, which she planned to present to the government when parliament resumes later this month.

Nationals MP Damian Drum has said the redundancies were unfortunate but necessary for TAFEs to survive.

He blamed the former government’s restructure for leaving a “mess” for his government to inherit.