A new education review by the NSW government which will investigate the TAFE training system has been hit with criticism, with fears it could lead to the privatisation of the sector and an increased skills shortage.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday announced the review to be led by education expert David Gonski and former public servant Peter Shergold.
"We want students to think of TAFE the same way they think of university, as a leading institution for furthering their education and gaining the skills of the future," Ms Berejiklian said in a statement.
The review is expected to consider a HECS-style program for TAFE students, greater industry involvement in courses and making sure courses are up to date.
Opposition spokesman Jihad Dib said rebuilding TAFE needs to be a priority for the state, but believes this review could be "the government walking away from TAFE".
"It worries me that this could lead to a running down of TAFE as well as the privatisation of TAFE which the premier has not ruled out," Mr Dib told AAP on Tuesday.
"TAFE should be an institution, not a pop-up shop."
Mr Dib said a HECS funding option could create financial barriers and argues courses should be made more accessible.
"There are courses out there that should not see people graduate with a debt, especially when we have such a skills shortage in this state," he said.
"The shortage is not going to improve by slugging a fee on it."
Asked if she would rule out privatisation during question time in parliament on Tuesday, Ms Berejiklian said the government would always control the courses available and would keep investing billions in TAFE every year.
"But if the question is whether we are open to industry making a contribution on top of that, the answer is yes," the premier said.
She added later: "If the question is whether we are selling off TAFE, the answer is an absolute no. This is about increasing our opportunities".
The NSW Teachers Federation argues TAFE should be free and the review instead should be an opportunity to highlight the detrimental effect private providers have on the sector.
"The race to introduce private providers has been a disaster for students who now face high fees and fewer opportunities to study the full range of courses at their local TAFE," president Angelo Gavrielatos said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Electrical Trades Union also slammed the proposal, claiming HECS-style loans would lump apprentices with huge debts and worsen skills shortages.
This was echoed by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge who said making TAFE free could be a blessing for regional areas.
"We can afford to make TAFE free, and doing so would provide a dramatic boost to regional areas, kick start new industries and give workers the skills they need for quality jobs with a future," he said in a statement on Tuesday.
The review is expected to report back by July.
Australian Associated Press