An out-of-work scientist has slammed a "moronic" education bureaucracy after he was knocked back from a job at TAFE because he didn't have a "high-school level" teaching certificate.
Dr John Tholen, who has a PhD in biochemistry from UNSW and has spent more than three decades in research and teaching roles in Australia, Singapore and China, found himself out-of-work after suffering a heart attack last year.
Seeing part-time positions advertised with TAFE NSW teaching biomedical laboratory technology, Dr Tholen thought his experience would make him a shoo-in for the role.
But earlier this month, he received a rejection letter saying that while his application was "carefully considered by the selection panel", he had not been successful.
The rejection letter invited him to contact the course convener to discuss the issue, who Dr Tholen claims told him the reason: he didn't have a Cert IV in Training and Assessment, or TAE40110.
The certificate, which covers topics such as making a presentation and planning assessment activities, costs around $2225 and takes six months to complete.
"I felt humiliated," he said.
Dr Tholen said he was told by TAFE that they had been forced to reject other lecturers, including from the University of Sydney, for the same reason. "If they had to reject all those lecturers, there must be some terribly wrong. It's out of control."
Nevertheless, he said he "quickly raced off to the nearest online provider, paid them $500 and started looking at the course".
"I gave them all of my credentials, asking them for some exemptions and prior recognition of learning, and that's when I discovered how bad it was," he said.
"When they looked at my qualifications, the first thing they said to me was, 'What's a PhD?' I'm not beating up on the lady, she was very lovely, but I explained to her what my qualification meant, and she said, 'But that's not a teaching qualification.'
"I said, 'But it is for every university in the world.'"
The new teaching requirement was introduced last year by the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, jointly established in May 2015 by state, territory and commonwealth ministers as part of the federal government's overhaul of the scandal-plagued vocational education sector.
A scathing Auditor-General report released late last year found Labor's VET FEE-HELP scheme was "not effectively designed or administered", leading to cost blowouts and rorting by unscrupulous private training organisations which targeted vulnerable students.
The government expects around $2.2 billion in loans written under the scheme will never be repaid. Four training organisations are currently facing court for alleged misleading and unconscionable conduct.
Dr Tholen believes in the rush to tighten up the scheme, the government overreacted and "opened the door for the bureaucracy to do whatever they want".
"I'm like the meat in the sandwich," he said. "On one side you've got the AISC, which is basically endorsed by the Department of Education, and on the flip side you've got ASQA [the Australian Skills Quality Authority], which then goes and gets these private education institutes to deliver these programs [the TAE40110].
"Between the two of them you've got a situation where one is demanding you do this rather ridiculous program, and the education provider which hasn't got any real understanding of what they should recognise as prior learning."
Asked why he didn't look for university teaching jobs, Dr Tholen said there were simply none available. "You've already got students in the system who are doing their PhD coming out looking for anything they can get," he said.
"If you think you can walk into a uni and get a job you're dead wrong."
He said while he had been invited to return to China for work, he needed to stay in Australia to take care of his 13-year-old daughter and 80-year-old mother.
"I just want to work and not rely on Centrelink but my self-esteem is being savaged by mindless government officials, the same breed that allowed bogus institutes run amok at the taxpayers' expense," he wrote in an email to Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.
"I feel so angry and consumed by this incursion on my profession and my livelihood by a bunch of bureaucratic morons."
In a statement, a spokesman for Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews said: "Under current required standards, nationally recognised vocational training must be delivered by people who have appropriate qualifications in training and assessment. This requires the attainment of a TAE40110 Certificate IV.
"These standards have been in place for a number of years."
A spokeswoman for TAFE NSW said it was a requirement from ASQA that "to be qualified to teach vocational education a person must possess the TAFE Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, in addition to skills and qualifications in a particular industry area".
"This has been the case for at least a decade," she said.
But she added that prior to 2016, a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) "could recognise an individual's experience, however this is no longer the case".
"Instead, the standards do allow for individuals without the Certificate IV to obtain specific skill sets that could allow them to train or assess at TAFE. As an RTO, TAFE NSW is required to comply with these standards," she said.