Lilydale campus closure shocks students

Amie Watson says the campus closure may force her to rethink her plans to continue studies next year.
Amie Watson says the campus closure may force her to rethink her plans to continue studies next year.

AMIE Watson had hoped to continue studying next year but fears she will have to abandon her plans. Ms Watson is a TAFE student studying liberal arts at Swinburne University's Lilydale campus. The university announced yesterday it would close the Lilydale campus next year.

From July 1 it will stop offering courses there. The closure is part of a broader restructure at Swinburne that will claim up to 240 jobs.

Ms Watson, 19, said she was angry the university failed to give any warning of the closure.

She said she was trying to decide between doing an arts degree or a TAFE hospitality course. But Swinburne is cutting a broad range of TAFE courses, including cookery, hospitality, local government, floristry, recreation and tourism.

Swinburne offers TAFE and university streams at the Lilydale campus, which has more than 3000 students.

Ms Watson, who lives in Healesville, said many students would refuse to travel to Swinburne's main campus in Hawthorn. ''I think it's extremely unfair. No one asked us what we want.''

The university is also moving its faculty of design from Prahran to Hawthorn.

Swinburne TAFE teacher George Ulehla said staff were yet to be briefed about the changes.

He said the campus closure would hurt Lilydale's economy.

Swinburne will lose $35 million after the state government slashed TAFE funding by about $290 million earlier this year.

Swinburne vice-chancellor Linda Kristjanson (right) said the university would offer voluntary redundancies. Teachers will account for half of the redundancies, with the remainder to come from general staff.

The university will also abandon TAFE courses that have low student demand.

The Victorian secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, Colin Long, said the union would continue talks with the university next week.

''We do have a sense they are trying to minimise the damage but the extent of the cuts is so substantial they've been forced into a bad situation,'' he said.

Communications student Melissa Ong said she found out her campus would close through Facebook.

Ms Ong said the university should have been more open about its plans before announcing it would close the campus. She has studied at Lilydale since 2009 and has several years to go before completing her degree.

Ms Ong said the Lilydale campus offered a much warmer and more personal atmosphere than other university campuses.

''We all became family because we're all from the local area,'' she said. ''It's a second home to most of the students.''

The state's Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Peter Hall, said the government's cuts to TAFE subsidies had not directly resulted in the closure of Swinburne's Lilydale campus, which he said housed higher education courses, not vocational training.

''The prime reason for these changes … is the refocus the university has taken to strengthen their delivery in the areas of science, technology and innovation,'' he said.

''They [Swinburne] continue to be a strong deliverer of vocational training and consequently in receipt of government subsidy for training. So yes, with the changes in subsidies that does have an impact on the university, but overwhelmingly the reason why they have made the changes is that they are refocusing on their areas of strength.''

Labor deputy leader James Merlino said the Swinburne campus closure and job losses was the reality of the government's cuts to TAFE.

Swinburne's student union condemned the closure. President Mark Briers said the union was concerned that the university had not consulted students before announcing it would close the campus.

This story Lilydale campus closure shocks students first appeared on The Age.