TAFE nursing breaks barriers

Article from: The Australian
Andrew Trounson | December 03, 2008

SOME universities have opened alliance discussions with TAFE colleges to deliver professional degrees using interstate and metropolitan TAFE infrastructure.

The discussions come as the two sectors converge, with a Victorian TAFE hoping to win commonwealth-supported places for its controversial new nursing degree.

Ahead of the Bradley review’s anticipated recommendations on the divide between the university and vocational sectors, some TAFEs are already pushing further into degrees, blurring the distinction even more.

In the face of some strong opposition from a nursing profession fearful that its standing will be downgraded, Victoria’s Holmesglen TAFE has won approval to offer 40 places in a three-year nursing degree next year, and it is hopeful of becoming the first TAFE to secure commonwealth funding for a degree course.

Fellow Victorian TAFE Box Hill is expected to follow Holmesglen’s lead.

For ambitious Holmesglen chief executive Bruce Mackenzie, commonwealth funding would be another step towards creating what he calls a “university college”.

In addition to vocational training, such acollege would provide a range of higher education degrees that would be distinct from universities in having a focus on applied learning and close industry co-operation.

“It would provide much greater access in the future to tertiary education than is currently available, especially for mature-age students,” Mr Mackenzie said.

TAFE Directors Australia chief Martin Riordan said Holmesglen’s nursing degree was part of a trend in the sector to offer more diversity in higher education.

“What we are looking at is opening up more diversity in higher education and I think the days when certain qualification sets were quarantined within universities are gone,” Mr Riordan said. He said that the discussions between some universities and TAFEs on jointly delivering professional degrees offered an “interesting business model that seems to be gathering pace”.

Such alliances could result in universities and TAFE institutes jointly bidding for money from the government’s Education Investment Fund.

But the nursing union and professional bodies are set to oppose any further moves to extend nursing degrees to TAFE. They warn that TAFE-qualified nurses could find themselves not meeting new national registration standards being developed for 2010.

Ged Kearney, federal secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, fears the move into TAFE will be used to drive down wages and create another class of nurses, who are already separated into degree-educated registered nurses and enrolled nurses.

“We will continue to lobby long and hard not to have this spread any further,” Ms Kearney said.