Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (12:46:30): My constituency question is for the Minister for Training and Skills, the Honourable Gayle Tierney. Victorians are wasting no time in working towards a free TAFE qualification thanks to the Andrews Labor government’s free TAFE initiative. Around 3000 Victorians, including those from my electorate of Western Metropolitan Region, started their free TAFE courses at TAFE campuses across the state in January. This represents a three-fold increase in student numbers for free TAFE courses compared to the same time last year. The enrolments have continued to increase in February, with more classes starting. The uptake has been so strong that some TAFE institutes have added more classes to cater for demand. My question to the minister is: can the minister provide me with an update on how free TAFE courses are assisting students and families in my electorate of Western Metropolitan Region and on what measures are being taken to accommodate the increase in demand?
Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education): I thank Ms Vaghela for her question and her ongoing interest in TAFE in her electorate and across the state. The Andrews Labor Government’s Free TAFE initiative is an opportunity for students who normally couldn’t afford TAFE, or who would find it financially difficult, to do a course that will increase their chances of getting a job, without paying tuition fees. Courses included in this initiative provide strong employment pathways. They are in key growth industries and areas of social priority such as responding to the Royal Commission on Family Violence and supporting the workforce of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Students wishing to study a Free TAFE courses in Melbourne’s West are well served, with courses being offered at Victoria University Polytechnic, Bendigo Kangan Institute, and The Gordon. All three TAFEs have reported strong growth in Free TAFE course commencements. Demand for Free TAFE had been consistently strong. Across January, February and March 19,000 students started training in Free TAFE courses across the 16 TAFE institutes. This is 60 per cent higher than commencements in the same courses at the same time last year. TAFEs are working to ensure all students have a positive experience and continue to provide support services to students throughout their studies. TAFEs are hiring additional teachers, and are scheduling additional classes over the coming months in order to meet the increased student demand. Anyone seeking further information about how to access Free TAFE should visit freetafe.vic.gov.au or call the TAFE and Training Line on 131 823.