Sydney’s Ultimo TAFE is set to stay, after being threatened with closure last year. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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BY ALEX EUGENE

A battle that has been raging between TAFE students and its corporate branch has been won this week. The Ultimo TAFE level two library was threatened with closure last year after plans were made to send the books packing to make way for corporate offices.

But the shocking news was met with fierce resistance from the Public Service Union and a groundswell of students who immediately began campaigning to save the library.

This week Paul Williams, Deputy Regional General Manager of TAFE NSW, announced at a Student Action Group meeting that he had met with Jon Black, Managing Director of TAFE NSW and received confirmation that the office plans had been scrapped and the library would stay.

The Greens member for Balmain, Jamie Parker has praised the move.

“Students and staff came together with the support of the Public Service Association and the Teacher’s Federation and beat back this ridiculous proposal. Thank you to everyone who supported the campaign.

“Under this Liberal government we have seen enormous cuts to TAFE funding, which has undermined the provision of services to students, cut staff and casualised the workforce. It was very inspiring to work with these students and staff [who stood up] for their right to a quality education environment,” said Mr Parker.

A spokesperson for Ultimo TAFE also told City Hub that part of the plan was axed as a result of the uproar.

“As a result of an options analysis, level two of the Ultimo campus library is not being considered as an accommodation option for corporate office staff and other opportunities are being explored,” they said.

But members of the student action group felt an “options analysis” should have been done before slating their library space to be pushed out.

A representative of the Save Ultimo TAFE Library student action group said that this never occurred.

“There was no analysis or understanding of the range of services provided by the Ultimo TAFE library to the students, teachers and the community. Nor was there any analysis of the way in which the space on level two was actually used by the TAFE and local community.

“Management seemed to be completely unaware of the social, intellectual, health and economic benefits libraries bring to a community or institution,” they said.

The representative, who did not want to be named, said there had been staff shortages, constantly broken equipment and a poor level of service in IT, enrolments and course information for years, but all had been ignored by upper management.

“It’s so easy for management to distract themselves with finding lovely new office space for their top-heavy corporate operations, rather than rolling up their sleeves and addressing issues which have not been adequately dealt with by TAFE for years,” they said.

Mel Avanzado, a student who completed a Business Certificate IV at Ultimo TAFE in 2016, still uses the Ultimo library even though he now studies at St Leonards TAFE because it is closer to his home.

He believes the corporate offices wanted level two for its natural light and balcony space.

“Level two has windows and a balcony and the natural sunlight helps our physiological well being – hence why TAFE corp wanted it for their functions,” he said.

He said it was also one of the few quiet spaces available to students.

“My colleagues and staff were worried our learning and ability to be in a serene environment would be severely kneecapped by closing one entire floor of the library. One only needs to go across the road to the UTS library [to experience] their chaotic loudness.

“In today’s digital world students still need to get together to discuss and debate ideas, and get help from encouraging and knowledgeable librarians to do our work. Education is not just retaining data, it’s a people-concentrated activity. A library is an indispensable platform of that education,” he said.

Fighting the plans was not an easy job. The student action group which Mr Avanzado was part of met with Rob Long from the Teacher’s Federation twice a month to keep on top of the issue.

The group felt TAFE’s plans were underhanded, after a ‘consultation’ for students about the move was held one day after the term finished and most of them would not be on site.

Stephanie Calabornes, a social work student who led the Save Ultimo TAFE Library campaign, said Paul Williams had promised to “sign off” his comments about the library being safe within two days, but a week later had still not done so.

“How can students get the best academic outcomes?” she said.

“Corporates must know that if not for us, [they could not] receive a paycheck. Yet they deny us quality education and transparency. They are failing to ensure basic equipment is functioning and up to standard for staff and students. They are failing to follow their ethical code of conduct.”

The TAFE spokesperson claimed that the organisation’s expenditure would be $94 million higher than the previous financial year.

However, they did not give any breakdown of what the money would be spent on. Students are still waiting for confirmation in writing that the level two library will stay, and for any indication that their services will be improved or upgraded.