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TAFE NSW: Government to spend up to $2 million recruiting executives

The NSW government will spend up to $2 million recruiting new executives to oversee TAFE as it prepares to cut up to half the vocational education provider's guaranteed funding. 

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The restructure will see eight new "executive leadership team positions" created to take charge of the state's vocational education and training sector, taking home salary packages of up to $243,000 each according to pay guidelines published by the NSW Public Service Commission

The hiring spree comes as the  guaranteed  TAFE NSW budget looks set to be slashed in half, according to a document seen by Fairfax Media based on estimates prepared by the NSW Department of Industry and Skills. Under the state government's Smart and Skilled reforms the public provider has been forced to compete for funding with up to 400 private colleges. 

Over the past year TAFE student fees have surged up to 22 per cent while student enrolment figures have plummeted by 43,000. More than 2000 TAFE teachers have lost their jobs since 2011, leading students and staff to describe once teeming institutions as "ghost town campuses". 

NSW cabinet documents leaked in September also revealed that the state government plans to sell 27 TAFE sites including the Epping, Dapto and Chullora campuses.


The advertising of the department's new executive positions, which include directors of policy and national reform, markets and governance, come after a damning NSW Auditor-General's report found "serious system limitations" were exacerbated by the Smart and Skilled reforms. 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Industry and Skills said it was looking to ensure it had the best people with the right skill sets to drive reform in this critical area. 

"The restructure ensures the Skills policy area fits within the Department of Industry and complies with the new Government Sector Employment Act - including the implementation of new senior executive structures - which all NSW Government agencies must comply with," she said. 

Opposition skills spokesman David Harris said the executive hires pushed front-line resources towards high-paying positions. 

"Paying a bunch of fat cats top dollar salaries at a time when the Baird government has cut 2500 TAFE teaching and support staff and enrolments are down 43,000 makes absolutely no sense at all," he said.

NSW Skills Minister John Barilaro​ would not comment on the recruitment of the executive leadership team. A spokesman denied that TAFE's NSW funding had been cut.

"The NSW budget for 2015-16 commits a $2 billion investment into TAFE NSW," he said. "TAFE NSW is actively responding to address issues identified by the Auditor-General." 

The NSW Greens and Labor have repeatedly warned that reducing TAFE's funding risks a collapse in the VET sector similar to that seen in Victoria, where half of the state's TAFE campuses have fallen into the red and dodgy private colleges have flourished. 

Nationally, the sector has been beset by allegations of private providers earning hundreds of millions of dollars from signing up illiterate, vulnerable students to VET-FEE Help debt without their knowledge. 

In December Fairfax Media revealed private colleges were targeting foster homes and homeless shelters

A spokesman for Mr Barilaro said NSW sets its own strict conditions on training provider quality to safeguard students. "This has successfully kept these shonky providers out of the NSW Smart and Skilled framework," he said. 

Three colleges, two of them based in Sydney, are now being pursued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for more than $200 million in combined taxpayer funding in the federal court. 

Ongoing problems with the vocational sector have prompted the federal government to announce a freeze on VET- FEE Help loans, while federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has signalled the federalisation of TAFE is one of the government's top priorities. 

According to the job description for the new position of NSW director of policy and national reform, the successful candidate could take carriage of such negotiations with state and federal ministers. 


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