FREE TAFE courses have provided a boost for the region creating new jobs and opportunities, the higher education provider's chief says.
Despite metropolitan media reports about overcrowding in classrooms and teacher shortages, South West TAFE's Mark Fidge says the roll-out here has been positive.
"We believe it has been hugely successful for our region and we're looking forward to more growth next year," Mr Fidge said.
Certificate III in Commercial Cookery student Maddi Doukas, 21, is loving her course.
She had previously started a cooking apprenticeship at a city restaurant, but did not finish it.
She said the free TAFE course offered her the opportunity to complete her studies.
"I have a passion for cooking," she said.
"I love that accomplished feeling when you cook a meal, plate it up and serve it to someone."
She said in the future she wanted to explore her Greek heritage and work in places such as Santorini.
"Eventually I would love to open my own restaurant here,"she said.
Student numbers at TAFE have increased to almost 3000, up from 2100 last year.
TAFE has employed 60-70 new staff to manage the extra demand.
Mr Fidge said it had been able to cope by carefully managing student numbers, employing new industry-experienced teachers and partnering with like-minded organisations to provide facilities and placement options for students.
"There are a lot of people in our region benefiting from the opportunities of free TAFE and we have been able to maintain our high standards and manage the influx," he said.
Almost all classes have less than 25 students, with restrictions in some cases placed to prevent over-crowding or risk placement concerns.
In some cases additional support staff have been added to assist students.
Overall there are about 300 potential students ready for mid-year or 2020 courses particularly in accounting/bookkeeping and individual support
"If we were able to access more teachers, we could grow further and we have a new recruitment campaign going for next year," Mr Fidge said.
"There are great opportunities for people in the community to do teaching qualifications to enable us to bring more students into classes next year. We're starting to recruit across the board, particularly for health-related courses and for a new free course in early childhood development."
Mr Fidge said partnering with Deakin University exposed students to university pathways.
He said he hoped that would result in extra enrolments at the Warrnambool campus next year.
TAFE has also introduced weekend and evening courses to create more flexibility for people working full time across all campuses.
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