FREE TAFE courses have "absolutely pummelled" regional university enrolments, according to La Trobe University's vice-chancellor.
Professor John Dewar made the comment to a state government inquiry into Victorian universities' investment in skills in direct response to the Victorian government's policy of subsidising 60 courses for eligible TAFE students.
Professor Dewar said the idea was great but had come at the expense of regional university campuses, according to newly published transcripts from an inquiry examining university investments in skills training.
He says it underscores the challenges universities and TAFES face dealing with a skills shortage when they are funded by two different levels of government.
It is not the only one.
"When the government recently conducted a review of agriculture education in the state of Victoria it left universities out," Prof Dewar said.
"Now, that does not speak of a world view that sees TAFE and higher ed as integrated."
There remained "enormous scope" for Victorian governments to bring TAFEs and universities closer together, he told the inquiry.
Monash University's Gregor Kennedy agreed and said state governments should look to partnerships universities had already formed for inspiration.
The comments could shape parliamentarians' thinking on how to deal with skills shortages using TAFEs funded mostly by the state government and universities largely by federal counterparts.
However, a state government spokesperson defended the 'free TAFE' policy.
"[It] has been a huge success, supporting more than 115,000 students to get quality training for the state's most in-demand jobs and saving $281 million in tuition fees," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said universities and TAFEs were both critical parts of the education system.
The state government has given money to universities for capital works and research, including $10 million recently for agriculture projects at La Trobe, and signed partnership agreements.
The inquiry has delved into Victoria's skill shortages at a time of decreasing demand for university places.
COVID-19 had dampened the number of people applying, Professor Dewar said..
Regardless, state and federal governments needed new, bespoke solutions to deal with skills shortages in regional areas.
Those could cover everything from more clinical placements to better pathways between TAFEs and universities, Professor Dewar said.
"There are a range of solutions, but I think they will differ according to the particular skills shortage," he said.
Professor Dewar told the Bendigo Advertiser that La Trobe had a long history of working "seamlessly" with regional TAFEs, including in Bendigo, to tackle skills shortages and other industry needs.
"These strong partnerships have led to several pathway projects in which we work with regional schools, TAFEs and other community groups to improve transition to post-school education," he said.
It was important that students had as many different pathways between TAFEs and universities as possible, Professor Dewar said.
He looked forward to La Trobe working with the Victorian Skills Authority to deal with skills shortages.
Inquiry members are drafting a report with recommendations on engagement with universities and skills training.
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