A SLANGING match has erupted over claims Victoria University TAFE staff face a bleak Christmas staring down the barrel of course and job cuts.
Friends of Victoria University (VU) say a further 59 positions are to go and an additional 30 contracts for VCE, English as a second language, and literacy staff will not be renewed.
They say cuts to trades are a kick in the guts for Melbourne's west, which will see the number of VU jobs lost rise to at least 500.
But Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall said the suggestion of cuts to subsidies for training trades "is simply wrong".
Friends of VU spokesman Iain McIntyre said VU was culling staff in core subjects such as carpentry, plumbing, sign-writing and boatbuilding.
"Losing so many staff in vital areas such as construction just doesn't make sense when industry is crying out for skilled workers and mining companies are importing thousands of overseas workers."
But Mr Hall said the subsidy for a certificate III apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery at a large TAFE institute like Victoria University had increased from $10.10 an hour to $11.50 an hour, with similar rises in other trades.
"Over the next four years, the Victorian Coalition government will invest almost $5 billion in training subsidies alone, including a new investment of $1.033 billion," he said.
"If Victoria University were to shift its government-funded course delivery into apprenticeships and courses in skills shortage areas that now receive significantly increased subsidy rates, the university would be $33.7 million better off, compared to delivering the same courses in 2012 as it did in 2011."
Mr McIntyre warned that a $40 million funding black hole — a quarter of VU's overall revenue — would have its biggest impact on disadvantaged western suburbs residents.
Rising fees are also biting more in the west, Mr McIntyre said, with fees of up to $8500 a year putting TAFE out of reach of those who need it most.
He pointed out the west's low year 12 completion rate and high unemployment - 8.9 per cent in Brimbank, 8.5 per cent in Melton, 8 per cent in Wyndham and 7.8 per cent in Maribyrnong.
"Cuts to courses that traditionally appeal to many working class students, especially boys, add insult to injury," Mr McIntyre said.
"Because of the cuts, many staff will spend Christmas without knowing if they have a job or what kind of work they might find themselves doing next year."
Western suburbs MP Bernie Finn said students "deserve better than to be subjected to this scare-mongering from the so-called 'Friends of Victoria University' and the National Tertiary Education Union."