THE past few months have witnessed an unprecedented level of concern and protest in the community about funding cuts to TAFE in Victoria.
The University of Ballarat has not been immune from either the funding cuts or from the protests.
The university publicly expressed its concerns which will see a $20 million reduction in funding to UB, 43 courses closing once current students have completed their studies and a number of staff taking redundancies.
The state government indicated from the outset that it had made tough decisions affecting TAFE because current funding levels were unsustainable.
While there is still a lot of public concern about these decisions, UB decided some time ago that its only course of action was to respond quickly and decisively to the funding cuts and then to look for opportunities.
UB outlined its plans to the state government. Last week these plans were leaked causing yet more consternation.
In these plans, UB indicated that it would continue to maintain a strong cash position by limiting its expenditure on capital development and making further savings as well looking for opportunities for growth.
One area for growth was in the establishment of a new UB Industry Skills Centre which would focus entirely on apprenticeships and skills training for the region. A new UB College would also be developed to incorporate preparatory programs including Foundation Programs and English Language.
These new developments will be functioning by January 2013.
Another new development announced by UB in its plans to the government was the formation of the Menzies Affiliation with regional TAFEs.
Through this collaborative arrangement, UB would work closely with regional TAFE institutes to deliver selected vocational and education training programs in the regions where students live and work and where they have access to industry placements and training facilities at their local TAFE institute.
A final issue which UB has taken up in its submission is to request that the state government resolve the complexity of land titles associated with its campuses so that UB is given full control of its property asset base.
UB has made it clear in outlining its plans to the state government that it is committed to TAFE and wishes to take an increasing leadership role in regional Victoria by working in close partnership with other TAFE institutes.
And while there are challenges, there are some positive signs.
UB and six regional TAFEs have recently received grants from the Federal and State governments for $28 million to enable more regional Victorians to gain access to tertiary education.
The community is also very committed and loyal to UB which was recently demonstrated by the more than 10,000 people who visited UB at its annual open day.
And, for a fourth successive year, the university has achieved the maximum five-star rating for teaching quality from the Good Universities Guide. The university also achieved high ratings for graduate satisfaction, entry flexibility, getting a job and positive graduate outcomes.
The clear message to the state government from UB is that we are keen to look for opportunities to enable the university to reach more regional Victorians and to take a stronger leadership role in regional Victoria should it be required.
Our students know well the UB motto, which is 'Learn to Succeed', and that applies to all of us at UB in these difficult and challenging times.
David Battersby is vice-chancellor of the University of Ballarat.