Students studying an information technology course at TasTAFE have had to put their financial security on hold after their certificate course was unexpectedly cancelled in Launceston.
Another who was completing a plumbing certificate waited nearly three years to receive his certificate and had to ambush staff working at Agfest last year because his correspondence and queries were going unanswered.
Course cancellations, infrastructure and resources that are not up to standard and teachers who are being worked to the bone and pushed between classes due to staff numbers, have become commonplace at Tasmania's public vocational education provider.
During a two-month-long investigation, The Examiner has uncovered how students and teachers' confidence in TasTAFE has become untenable and its responsibility to students is at risk.
Two Launceston students, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal, said their Certificate IV in Information Technology course at TasTAFE was cancelled abruptly.
"We couldn't log on to the system to do the modules for a month," one student said.
All the modules are taught online but the course was not able to get underway until those systems had been updated and logins secured.
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Another student in the same class said the resources and computers they had been given to study on were "average at best" and they were probably too old for them to work on.
The pair had started the class with the intention to pursue the diploma offered by TasTAFE to sure up their career prospects but were now reconsidering their future after the cancellation.
Documents sighted by The Examiner showed TasTAFE staff were apologetic that the experience 'had not lived up to expectations' but they had resolved to offer the course again at Alanvale next year.
However, both students, who are job seekers, said the delay had put their financial position at risk.
"I had to have some lengthy conversations with Centrelink, it caused some trouble, because they did not understand why I was still a student but I wasn't going to classes," one student said.
The pair say they are now at a financial disadvantage because they have both paid for their course but they have not been given a guarantee that it will run at Alanvale.
All students in that class have been offered refunds on their course by TasTAFE but they are now considering their options.
Both students said they looked at private training providers but many didn't offer the specific course they were looking into but the cost was also prohibitive.
TasTAFE chief executive Jenny Dodd denied the IT course had been cancelled but said rather it was not being offered for semester 2.
"TasTAFE has not cancelled any courses in Launceston. TasTAFE offered Certificate IV in Information Technology at the Launceston Campus during Semester 1, 2019, but is not offering this course in Semester 2 due to low student interest," she said.
However, both students said low student interest was not what they had been told as the reason for the sudden cancellation of classes. They said about 10 students were still in the course when it had been removed from their schedules.
Australian Education Union TAFE vice president Damian von Samorzewski said while 10 students was not a large class, it was not particularly small.
He said it was common for students to drop out of classes due to gaining employment.
Teacher stress hits home
In the past year, TasTAFE has been hit with chronic teacher shortages, with delays in courses and students left to relatively their own devices becoming more frequent.
In March, it was revealed students studying electrotechnology would have their course delayed until May due to the sudden departure of a teacher.
CEPU state secretary Michael Anderson said at the time, the teacher in question had left after only six days on the job.
However, since then, three electrotechnology teachers have been employed, according to the right to information documents sought by The Examiner.
Launceston Drysdale students were also left relatively unsupervised in April after a teacher had to leave unexpectedly.
Ms Dodd said at the time a decision was made to ensure students were able to complete their learning experience.
The students were supervised by a teacher in an adjacent classroom and a technical assistant who moved between the two classrooms as the students worked.
"When the teacher had to leave the class unexpectedly, a decision was made to continue the class so that students could complete the learning unit and would not have to repeat it at another time, " Ms Dodd said.
Finally, in August, there was a shortage of markers that delayed the return of exam work for Certificate II nursing students in the south.
However, it's understood that the marking issues were isolated to the nursing courses and did not affect other courses further afield.
'Three years for a certificate'
Former student Adam Sutton has waited nearly three years to receive his certificate, after completing his plumbing course.
Mr Sutton was seeking to upskill for his former job and part of his performance review was to provide documentation he had completed.
The course that was delivered was a slight variation on standard plumbing courses but was one listed on TasTAFE's website as being able to be delivered in Tasmania.
However, on completion of the course, TasTAFE advised Mr Sutton that it would take some time for him to receive his certificate.
Since 2016, Mr Sutton contacted TasTAFE staff about 13 times to inquire about his certificate and, in documents sighted by The Examiner, he was told it would have to wait for one particular person, who was on leave.
"My question is, why is it only this one person in the entire company who can sign off on my certificate," he said.
Mr Sutton said he received the certificate last week, after completing the course in 2016, and after multiple inquiries to TasTAFE, including ambushing staff working at TasTAFE's Agfest stall in 2017.
Ms Dodd said the organisation issues certificates to students who have "met all the requirements of the course" within the regulatory timeframe of 30 days.
Long term teachers depart
A right to information request showed between May 2017 and August 2019, 10 teachers had resigned from TasTAFE employment.
Nine of those teachers who resigned in that time frame were long-term employees of the vocational education provider.
One was employed there for 13 years, one for 12 years, one for 11 years, three for 10 years, one for nine years and one for eight years.
The final teacher to resign had been employed for only two years. However, the RTI has refused to release details of how many teachers were on long-term illness or stress leave.
The response cited that "the reasons for illness are not disclosed by medical professionals."
Mr von Samorzewski said teachers were frustrated with the lack of support and with ever-increasing workloads.
"The problem is, often teachers are not working just on that one class, they have several and across courses," he said.
Mr von Samorzewski said it had become commonplace for teachers at TasTAFE to resign due to workload pressures, or for them to drop down to 0.6 full-time equivalent.
"Then they still get the benefits, but without the stress of full-time work and are supplementing with industry," he said.
However, the right to information request also shows that TasTAFE has employed 91 teachers in the same time frame, however it does not detail if they are full-time equivalent or what roles they are employed in.
The education union said they could not confirm that many full-time teachers had been employed but said it could reflect part-time and job share positions.
The RTI response did not detail how many full-time equivalent positions there were of those 91 teachers who have been employed.
However, Mr von Samorzewski said if 91 teachers have been employed, then it did not make sense that courses were continued to be cancelled and resources not supplied.
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Staff, budget 'challenge'
TasTAFE's corporate plan, released last year, details the organisation's plan to move towards a student-centric one but outlines the challenges it faces.
"Recruitment of teachers in key industries is a continuing challenge," the report reads.
"The development of a workforce plan with a focus on matching staff skills to industry needs is underway."
Education infrastructure is also a significant challenge facing TasTAFE.
"As a consequence of a number of years of under-investment, many TasTAFE physical facilities and digital infrastructure do not meed contemporary education and training needs," the report reads.
"Management of the large number of facilities involves significant overheads and will need to be carefully considered as part of any future product delivery strategy.
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"At the same time, an assessment will be required as to the suitability of existing and available IT applications."
A common denominator that arose during the investigation, while speaking with teachers, was that funding was a huge challenge.
Mr von Samozewski said there simply wasn't enough funds being injected into resources.
TasTAFE is funded jointly between the state and federal governments, with the government allocating states funds from the Skilling Australians Fund.
The state has also pledged 80 per cent of Tasmania's vocational training budget to TasTAFE, but it is unclear how much of this is directed at teachers and resources.