This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher.
By Jonathan Guy
In the last issue of The Australian TAFE Teacher we examined the State of Our TAFEs survey results in relation to the impact of the pandemic on TAFE teachers’ working lives. In this issue we will examine the impact of funding and resourcing cuts over the past few years, and how these have affected TAFE teachers’ working hours and workloads, how a lack of investment in buildings and equipment is hampering TAFE teachers and how cost cutting is undermining course quality.
Workload remains a key area of concern and campaigning focus for the AEU, and there were several key questions designed to identify the current workload burden for TAFE members, and how these have changed over the past two years. These questions were:
Across all respondents working in TAFE, both full time and part time, working hours exceed contractual hours by at least one day per week on average. Full-time workers reported an average of 43.8 hours per week, average working hours 25.1 per cent above their average contractual working hours of 35 hours per week – this equates to more than an additional day of unpaid work every week.
As has been shown in international workload studies of further and higher education teaching staff, part-time workers reported that they are the most likely to work hours that substantially exceed their contracted work time.
In this survey, the average part-time TAFE employees who stated that their work time exceeds their contracted hours by an average of 39 per cent (an average of 28.1 hours of work per week while contracted for an average of 20.2 hours per week) and those employed on very small fractions (0.2 – 0.4 FTE) are most likely to report working well above their contracted hours with many reporting that they are working double the amount of time they are paid for each week.
Those at the earlier stages of their teaching careers are working the most excessive hours. On average, TAFE members in their first three years of working in the sector are working an average of 28 per cent more hours each week than they are contracted to work and 35.3 per cent are working in excess of 45 hours per week on average, 18.5 per cent are working more than 50 hours per week and some early-career teachers have reported working in excess of 70 hours per week.
Survey respondents were asked “over the last two years, other things being equal, have your working hours increased, stayed the same or reduced”. Across the sector three-quarters of people stated that their workload had increased over the last 5 years, with 41.6 per cent stating it had increased significantly and 32.9 per cent stating it had increased slightly. 19.6 per cent indicated that their working hours had not changed and less than 6 per cent stated that working hours had reduced.
In addition to increased and unsocial and non-family friendly extended working hours, a significant and important component of workload pressure and stress can result from having to work at a continually high and unrelenting pace or intensity.
The vast majority of staff reported that the pace and intensity of their workloads had indeed increased in recent years. Two thirds of respondents reported that the pace and intensity of their work had increased significantly in the last three years, and another 25 per cent reported that it had increased slightly. In total, the vast majority – 90 per cent – reported that the pace or intensity of their work had increased over the last two years. Only 3 per cent said that it had reduced, either significantly or slightly.
Are workloads manageable?
When asked whether they are able to manage their workloads day to day, 6.6 per cent said their workload is entirely unmanageable, 28.5 per cent reported that their workload is either unmanageable most or all of the time and 36.9 per cent said it is unmanageable half the time. In total, 65.4 per cent said their workload is unmanageable at least half the time and only 3.5 per cent of people said that their workload is entirely manageable.
Changes in work time composition
In addition to quantifying the hours worked and intensity of work performed by staff each week, a primary purpose of the survey was to determine whether the composition of workloads has changed over the last two years, and whether any changes had altered the relative proportion of time that staff in TAFE spend on the various tasks that constitute the whole of their workload.
In order to gain greater insight into the impact of any changes in workload composition by primary activity, respondents were also presented with a list of frequent work activities. All respondents were also asked to indicate whether any changes to workload composition had resulted in an increase or decrease in the pace or intensity of their working practice for each activity over the last two years.
By far, administration was seen as having the largest increase as a component of total work time, with 87.9 per cent saying that it has increased as a proportion of total work time in the last three years and 66.8 per cent saying it has increased significantly.
The impact of the pandemic on the composition of TAFE teachers’ work was clearly communicated in these results. Members responded that the time they spend on individual communications and student consultation increased significantly (68.4 per cent) as has time spent on online meetings (85.3 per cent) and course review and development for online delivery (68.4 per cent) and on preparing learning resources (73.9 per cent). Nearly two-thirds said that the time they spend preparing and assessing students re-sitting examinations has increased – a result that points to the failure of Competency Based Training as the dominant approach to learning in Vocational Education. It is telling the activities that members were least likely to have said increased as a proportion of their overall work: research, reading and time spent teaching.
Top factors affecting changes to workload
We asked survey respondents to rank the top five contributing factors to changes in their workload over the last two years.
The most frequently selected contributory factor for TAFE members was, by far, increased administrative work. This was selected as the number one factor by more than half of respondents and selected as the top factor affecting workload by more than three times any other factor shown in the list below.
More than half also selected a widening of duties considered to be within their remit as a major factor (58.5 per cent) and 54.6 per cent selected adapting to new systems required for working remotely.
We also asked respondents to select the top five factors that impact on their overall experience of work. Again, excessive administration was identified by the vast majority (89.9 per cent) as having a substantial impact on their work, followed by overall workload (86.6 per cent). The hours of work required was identified as a major contributor by 61.7 per cent of respondents, which suggests that the pace and intensity of work is a greater concern than excessive working hours. The approach of management toward staff was identified as a top contributing factor by 70.8 per cent.
Resources have declined, class sizes have increased and significant investment is needed
We asked TAFE members if they were aware of how funding cuts and resource limitations had affected their institution. Of those who were aware either way, 83 per cent said that their institution had stopped providing particular courses in the last three years, and across all subject areas a lack of funding was the most common reason for course closure, followed by insufficient student numbers and a lack of qualified teachers.
The most frequently defunded courses were Creative Arts, Engineering and Languages, Literacy and Numeracy and IT courses. More than two-thirds of those who were aware of their departmental budget said that it had decreased in the last two years and nearly half of those in teaching roles said class sizes had increased.
TAFE needs urgent investment in buildings and equipment
Improved IT equipment on site (51.2 per cent) and IT equipment for remote working (46.3 per cent) were cited as requiring significant additional investment to be brought up to standard by the highest proportion of respondents and considered to require some upgrading by an additional 32.2 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
The need for substantial capital works and equipment investment in our TAFE campuses is so great, that across the eight areas of resource that we asked about, an absolute minority considered current levels of investment to be adequate. For IT equipment, studio equipment, materials to support workplace delivery, technical and administrative equipment and trade equipment, the percentage of TAFE members who considered investment to be adequate was between less than 10 per cent to 11.5 per cent.
Constant cost cutting is undermining education quality
TAFE institutes are increasingly engaged in the practice of what is often euphemistically referred to as the “shaving” of teaching hours from their courses. In reality, this practice is the slashing of the amount of time that teachers are allocated for direct teaching contact with students, unusually without any commensurate decrease in the amount of content they have to cover. This slashing of course contact hours can only compromise the quality of education that TAFE teachers are able to deliver.
63.8 per cent of TAFE teachers told us that they had had hours “shaved” from the courses they teach and nearly all (98.5 per cent) said they were still required to ensure that students cover everything required for their courses within the reduced hours.
97.8 per cent of those who have had hours slashed from their courses through “shaving” said that it will impact on the ability of students to successfully complete their courses, with the majority saying that impact will be significant (69.4 per cent).
On average, when hours were “shaved” from a course, direct contact teaching time for that course was reduced by nearly a quarter.
The most telling impact of the reductions in teaching time, additional administration load, move away from practical lessons, poor assessments and equipment that TAFE teachers reported through the State of Our TAFEs survey is that 80.1 per cent believe that their students are not receiving the same quality of education as they were two years ago. Unsurprisingly, 81 per cent identified a lack of funding as the primary factor in the decline in course quality.
The State of Our TAFEs survey presents a candid picture of a sector that has borne the brunt of nine years of a reckless focus on marketisation and cost cutting at the hands of the previous Coalition Government. The recent election of the Albanese Government and its promise of fee-free TAFE, its focus on manufacturing skills and its commitment to guarantee at least 70 per cent of Commonwealth funding to TAFE is reason for hope and optimism, although there is still much work that must be done to repair the damage wrought on the sector over almost a decade.