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Textbook ban reversed following industry outcry

TAFE NSW has backed down from a contentious decision to ban the distribution of optical dispensing textbooks to rival colleges following industry-wide outcry against the move.

The controversy erupted in January, when TAFE NSW announced that it would not accept external purchase orders for the ‘David Wilson textbooks’ Practical Optical Dispensing and Practical Optical Workshop.

The sudden announcement, days before teaching semesters were due to start, was made despite the textbooks having been available for other colleges, wholesalers and individuals to purchase since they were first published nearly 20 years ago.

TAFE NSW was able to restrict access to the textbook as it owns the copyright, despite the fact a private industry group funded the most recent editions. However, a concerted industry-wide appeal, along with some behind-the-scenes State Government assistance, forced the abrupt turnaround.

Former TAFE NSW lecturer and co-founder of the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD), Mr James Gibbins, said while he is relieved the issue has been resolved, it was still a major inconvenience on the eve of classes recommencing.

"TAFE NSW will be reviewing its textbooks in 2018 and is intending to update these resources for use in 2019"
James Gibbins, ACOD co-founder

“There is real disruption for all the colleges, right now. You just can’t switch to another textbook overnight, all your course learning materials are linked to it – it’s like you’re changing the course,” he said.

“Withdrawing the availability of the textbooks without warning at the start of the academic year would have had a serious and damaging impact on the studies of hundreds of trainee dispenser students.”

Insight attempted to contact TAFE NSW managing director Mr Jon Black with regard to the textbooks, but he did not make himself available for comment. Instead, a spokesperson released a statement that said TAFE NSW made the decision to overturn the ban following a review.

“This decision was driven by our consideration of the potential impact on students at other registered training organisations that do not have sufficient resources to develop materials for their students,” the spokesperson said.

However, Gibbins, who played a key role in organising the industry’s response to the ban, told Insight TAFE NSW refused to back down until the State Government got involved.

“The personal appeals to TAFE got rejected or ignored. Then we got ministerial advice – go to your local member,” he said.

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“Within three days of seeing [Member for Manly] James Griffin, I had information that the ministers were across the situation and would totally support our appeal, immediately.

“Only then did TAFE back down. They have not been gracious, they were forced.”

TAFE NSW would not confirm what involvement the government had in reversing its decision, but the spokesperson indicated it was only a temporary back down.

ACOD's Chedy Kalach and James Gibbins

“In a competitive VET market, TAFE NSW does not consider that it is appropriate or reasonable, on an ongoing basis, to provide its resources to competitors in circumstances where TAFE NSW has invested significantly in its materials,” he said.

“TAFE NSW will be reviewing its textbooks in 2018 and is intending to update these resources for use in 2019. TAFE NSW does not intend to provide these materials to third parties.”

However, the renewed ban may arrive sooner than 2019, as an email from the Head of Government Relations TAFE NSW deputy general counsel only guaranteed availability of the textbooks until June 30.

Such an eventuality would mean the relevant registered training organisations – ACOD, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and TAFE Queensland North – would have less than six months to make alternative arrangements.

“No other textbook exists in Australia, that’s why this is emotional,” Gibbins said.

“The alternative option is to go to international textbooks, which are great, but they’re not written within the Australian context. There is now an opening for a new Australian textbook to be written in order to fill the gap that this is creating.”

Aside from ACOD, the International Opticians Association, the Victorian branch of the Australian Dispensing Opticians Association, the Association of Dispensing Opticians New Zealand, OptiBlocks New Zealand, the Association of British Dispensing Opticians, and Eyeline Optical New Zealand were all involved the appeal.

AFT Pharmaceuticals

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