20 March 2009
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The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa welcomes the opportunity to respond to the proposal for realignment of the TEC.
As the largest union in the tertiary education sector, we have a clear interest in the role that TEC plays in the sector, both from the perspective of our members who are tertiary education professional, and as a democratic organisation that advocates for the interests of workers. Our views about the realignment proposal stem therefore from these two perspectives.
General comments on the proposal
We recognise that the current economic climate requires careful stewardship of public funds. However we are concerned that at a time when the tertiary sector has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that we can respond effectively to this crisis, the TEC is being directed to make significant structural changes that seem to us to be primarily ideologically driven.
For example, whilst government has frequently emphasised the importance of front-line staff in the public sector, the realignment proposal essentially removes all front-line staff from the TEC’s structure and operations. All regional offices (except the Wiri contact centre) are to be closed; all stakeholder engagement manager positions are to be disestablished. This leaves the TEC with no network of regional staffing and risks limiting its ability to provide in-depth analysis of regional education and training needs. This element of the proposal signals to us a shift from an approach emphasising networks of tertiary education provision aligned to a national strategy, to a much more ad-hoc and highly centralised arrangement.
In regards to the stakeholder engagement manager positions, it is difficult to understand how these roles, considered essential a bare 18 months ago, can now be regarded as redundant to the TEC’s functions. We recognise that as the sector adapts to the changes initiated by the tertiary reforms, the function of these positions may need to be reconsidered, however we are not convinced that the cultural changes required are sufficiently embedded to warrant the wholesale disestablishment of these positions. Whilst many institutions have made excellent progress in terms of taking a comprehensive and strategic approach to working with their communities, industry and other stakeholders, others in our view still require the additional support and guidance that is currently provided by stakeholder engagement managers. We are concerned that the TEC will not be able to provide the depth of information obtained through face-to-face relationships with TEOs if these roles were to be disestablished.
The proposal also identifies a significant number of advisor and administrative roles for disestablishment, whilst largely retaining the same management layer within the TEC. Again, this calls into question this government’s commitment to retaining frontline staff in the public sector, or perhaps indicates a lack of understanding about the function of these roles within the TEC, i.e. that they are in fact very much frontline positions, albeit at a national level.
We are also concerned that the TEC overall will be a less responsive organisation. For example it is likely that institutions that are experiencing financial or other difficulties will only be known of when they are at a much higher level of crisis, because there will be no ‘on the ground’ staff to notice change. We note in the proposal that investment managers will be responsible for this and most other institutional liaison, however with their workloads and the focus on centralising their functions, we are not confident that they will be able to achieve the depth of knowledge required to fulfill this task.
More generally the TEU Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa is concerned about the capacity of the TEC to maintain its analysis of institutions and programmes to ensure that funding is directed appropriately. With the reductions proposed for stakeholder engagement managers and other staffing groups, we fear that there will be a less comprehensive approach, which may lead to poorer decision-making as a result of inadequate staffing. We are also concerned about the impact on staff workloads that is likely to be a result of the realignment in terms of workload intensification for remaining staff. Again this is particularly concerning in the area of advisors and administrative staff where the most radical cuts are proposed.
Our overall view of the realignment proposal is that it is a response to a politically-motivated directive that puts ideological rhetoric before a strategic approach to skills development, education and training. If the realignment proposal is implemented, the result is likely to be a return to the fractured and competitive sector of the past, at a time when a cohesive approach is most needed. Given the critical role that the public tertiary education system must play in NZ’s response to the global financial crisis it is our view that an approach that provides stability and certainty for the sector is paramount. Upheaval of the TEC as is proposed will not provide that.