Push to join rural TAFEs to Ballarat uni

BALLARAT University is leading a push to bring the majority of regional Victoria's TAFE institutes under one umbrella named after former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies.

The university proposes to join with six other TAFE institutes to continue offering courses that are facing closure following state government funding cuts. The network of TAFE institutes would include Ballarat, Central Gippsland, Goulburn Ovens, Wodonga, Bendigo Regional, Sunraysia and east Gippsland's Advance TAFE, spread across 28 campuses.

Ballarat University vice-chancellor David Battersby said he would meet the state government next week to discuss the ''Menzies Affiliation'' network.

It has also been referred to as ''Menzies University'' but Professor Battersby stopped short of describing the alliance as a merger. It would take the former prime minister's name because he was born in regional Victoria.

Professor Battersby said the project could save some TAFE courses from closure.

Ballarat University will lose about $20 million in state government funding and will cut back up to 40 courses, including some horticulture, hospitality and business qualifications.

Recent state government funding cuts have accelerated plans to form the regional alliance in which institutes would share responsibility for delivering TAFE courses.

Professor Battersby said the colleges would retain their autonomy but join a collective with shared resources to provide courses each institute could not afford to teach alone.

He said the university began working with the TAFE institutes to offer degrees about two years ago.

The university then received $25.8 million from the federal government to help students in regional Victoria obtain degrees.

National Tertiary Education Union Victoria secretary Colin Long said he supported strengthening vocational training in regional Victoria, but stretched budgets would make it difficult.

''Making it work in a context of major budget cuts to TAFE is going to be a real challenge,'' he said. ''All of the institutions suggested are financially stressed.''

The Victorian TAFE Association estimates the state government has slashed $290 million from the TAFE sector, resulting in reduced funding for some courses.

But the state government has repeatedly said it would invest an extra $1 billion over the next four years in training that leads to ''meaningful jobs'' that support the state's economy.

Advance TAFE chief executive Peter Heilbuth said he hoped the proposal would save some courses that individual institutes could not afford to offer.

■Meanwhile, Australia's universities will go into the red in the next few years if they are not allowed to set their own fees, the head of the Group of Eight institutions has warned. ''If there's no growth [from international students], and the money we get for the Commonwealth students is limited to inflation, and we continue to have wage rises and other cost increases that soak that up, then in three years' time we'll have an accumulated deficit of close to $100 million,'' said Go8 chairman Professor Fred Hilmer, referring to UNSW, of which he is vice-chancellor.

The Grattan Institute think tank yesterday recommended that students pay a higher contribution to their education costs and governments redirect money currently used to subsidise higher education places.

With Jen Rosenberg

The story Push to join rural TAFEs to Ballarat uni first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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