Interview on FIVEaa with Leon Byner
Topic: TAFE SA crisis



Leon Byner:                 Senator Simon Birmingham, what’s the latest you’ve got? Good morning.

Simon Birmingham:    Well, good morning, Leon, and yes, I, as the Federal Minister, have been taking a close look at the impact in relation to international students. International students are a big part of Australia’s economy now. Your listeners may not appreciate the fact that international education is Australia’s third-largest export earner; that it underpins around 130,000 jobs across Australia, and in South Australia alone it’s worth about $1.2 billion. And whilst the largest part of that relates to our universities and higher education, there are a number of international students who participate at schools and in vocational education settings, and in this TAFE crisis in South Australia that the State Government’s presided over, we see around 114 students who may be affected, according to our federal records, and I’ve asked and had my department in touch with the South Australian authorities to make sure that they are working through each of those individual cases to ensure that we protect the international education industry that supports so many jobs in SA and across Australia.

Leon Byner:                 Is this going to happen before Christmas? Because there’s no reason it shouldn’t.

Simon Birmingham:    We are assured that contact has been and is being made with each of those students, and so I expect that should all be done well and truly before Christmas. Of course, you’re right in your introduction there that uncertainty still lingers, because the State Government is refusing to give straight answers about what their fallback plans are. If these courses are not going to be able to be offered by TAFE next year, then how are they going to ensure that students part way through their studies are supported by other providers, by not-for-profit providers or private providers, to complete those studies? How are they going to ensure that students who may already have completed their qualification are given absolute certainty that they have the competencies and skills needed to take that qualification out into the workforce and succeed?

Leon Byner:                 My information is that students have been contacted alright, but they’ve got a letter which only tells them that they’re going to get back to them; there’s no detail.

Simon Birmingham:    Well that is woefully inadequate if that’s the case, and I’ll certainly be asking for more information about this [indistinct]…

Leon Byner:                 Well, let’s – stay on the line, let’s ask Gary Collis. Gary, is that not your understanding?

Gary Collis:                 Good morning, Leon. My understanding is that all the communication with any student – whether it be an overseas student or a local student – has been by email or by letter. And we are dealing with the biggest crisis in education in South Australia that we’ve ever known. What we need to do is we need to work together. It’s above politics. The Government, Opposition, people like Nick Xenophon; we need to help the students and you start that by actually meeting them, communicating not by email, not by letter, but face to face. And that’s why in conjunction with Nick Xenophon, we’ve organised a forum for this Thursday night at 6.30 at the Adelaide Rowing Club and I’ve invited the Minister, I’ve invited the Opposition spokesman Mr Gardner, to emphasize the fact that it should be above politics. It calls for leadership and leaders in a crisis [indistinct] by email.

Leon Byner:                 Gary, what’s been the contents of the letter?

Gary Collis:                 My understanding of the letter is it simply states that there are issues and they will be in touch- TAFE will be in touch with the students once they have more information to [indistinct] …

Leon Byner:                 So they’ve basically written to them to say that they’re on the case, but they’ll be in touch. Is that, Simon, what you expected to hear?

Simon Birmingham:    Well no, that seems, as I said before, woefully inadequate, Leon, if that is all the information that’s been provided, and it does go to the point though that I was making before. Until the State Government makes a decision about how they are going to remedy issues for students who’ve completed their qualifications, or how they’re going to remedy issues for students partway through those qualifications, then of course it’s little wonder students are being told: hang tight, we’ll come back to you, because the State Government’s not giving anybody a straight answer at present. They really haven’t taken the responsible path that is necessary at present, which is to provide certainty to all of those affected students and certainty to the employers across South Australia in particular, who rely upon these qualifications in different parts of manufacturing, skilled trade, hospitality sectors and the like; which are all affected by this crisis in TAFE.

Leon Byner:                 Simon, thanks for being on.