THE chant "Fund TAFE art" was shouted from TAFE NSW Hunter Institute yesterday as students, teachers and politicians protested government cuts.
Over the past 12 months 55 jobs have been lost from the institute.
TAFE Community Alliance representative Kevin Heys led the rally and said students' were suffering from fee increases and the Smart and Skilled NSW reforms to be introduced.
Under the changes, government subsidies will be limited to courses in priority industry areas.
"Is the government looking after big industry interest as opposed to community and public interest?" Mr Heys asked.
NSW Teachers Federation organiser Rob Long said the biggest impact so far in Newcastle was on fine arts students.
Taliah Darcy-Shaw, who is studying a diploma of fine arts in Newcastle, said it would cost $14,000 for a year of study.
"It's turning away a lot of people; there are people who are doing this just to go to university."
Alana Chrisp is doing a film course at the TAFE.
"A lot of time for the courses has gone - what I'm studying is now a six-month course and it was once a 12-month course," she said.
Greens NSW MP John Kaye, who plans to introduce a bill to the NSW Upper House to protect from TAFE cuts, criticised Member for Newcastle Tim Owen for not supporting students.
"The government intends to introduce the Smart and Skilled training model, which will throw TAFE into an unwinnable competition against low cost, low quality private providers," he said.
Institute director Phil Cox was not present at the rally but said he was pleased people cared about the TAFE, although he felt their response was an "overreaction".
"I don't really share the views of people at the rally because I believe TAFE will continue to be the backbone of training in NSW," he said
Mr Owen said he had a son studying fine arts at the TAFE who worked part-time to pay the extra costs, so he empathised with students.
He said it was about making things efficient and to make it a competitive industry in the long term.
He said many cuts were to remove duplication.