Submission of the Tertiary Education Union On the public consultation document “Tairāwhiti Polytechnic and Eastern Institute of Technology – case for merger”
12 November 2010
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The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the consultation document “Tairāwhiti Polytechnic and Eastern Institute of Technology – case for merger”. As the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector (in universities, institutes if technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, OTEPs and REAPs), we have a significant number of members at both institutions who will be affected by the proposed merger. The union is also committed to ensuring that our members work in an environment that supports quality teaching, research and learning, and that delivers a positive tertiary education experience to students through the provision of appropriate support and services.
General comments on the proposed merger
In general the TEU is supportive of the direction that the merger consultation document outlines. We recognise that Tairāwhiti Polytechnic has struggled financially for the past ten years or so, a situation which has been exacerbated by a limited population from which to draw students from. We also agree that it is important to retain local polytechnic provision for the Gisborne, Poverty Bay and wider Tairāwhiti communities, particularly given the geographical challenges for the region and the social and economic development opportunities that may otherwise be missed without a local polytechnic providing vocational education and training. We are aware of some of the limitations that EIT has faced in relation to its size and agree that these may be addressed by combining the operations and programmes of the two institutions.
Enhancing the quality of regional provision
The merger consultation document notes that an expected beneficial outcome of the merger would be enhanced educational provision for the Gisborne region, and the opportunity to provide greater depth in programme offerings for EIT (pg. 3). Pooling resources – both academic and operational – seems likely to result in improved quality for provision in the region, and an expansion of opportunities for a broader spread of qualifications that allow students to ‘staircase’ beyond level four studies.
Part of the analysis of possible advantages to be gained from bringing together the resources of the two institutions should also examine the extent to which both institutions are currently able to provide quality programmes to students in more remote parts of the region. An evaluation of the effectiveness of this provision will be important in relation to an overall strategy that specifically addresses access, participation and educational outcomes for Māori, as well as ensuring that the new regional institution is addressing vocational and educational training needs for all of its communities.
A broader evaluation of the positive gains that might be obtained from combining regional provision should also assess the role the new institution will play in relation to other tertiary education and training opportunities in the region (Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, REAP and private providers). We would expect that if the merger goes ahead, the new institution would take a leading role in encouraging collaborative relationships between other providers in the region, as well as providers in other regions and nationally.
In order to achieve the merger goals, both institutions need to examine their current provision and operations to identify the areas which may need further development. For example, identifying to what extent current staff will need opportunities to study for higher qualifications and/or additional support in order that they can contribute to the goal of lifting the levels of qualifications achieved by students beyond level 4. It is pleasing to note that the merger consultation document has given this particular issue some consideration with reference to staff training for the transition to blended delivery (pg. 21). However it is vital that the new institution takes a longer-term view, beyond the period immediately after the merger, to ensure that current staff are supported to meet the requirements of new styles of delivery and/or teaching on higher-level programmes.
Additionally a thorough understanding of regional need and the intersecting opportunities for the two regions (Gisborne and the Hawkes Bay) needs to inform the merger, to ensure that the new institution is able to effectively respond to social and economic development priorities. A particularly important element to be considered is identification of social and economic development aspirations of iwi and hapū across the two regions and how the merged institution might best respond to these. The proposal of a 50 EFTs ‘reserve’ for local iwi (pg. 19) is an interesting approach which could provide an immediate benchmark for Māori participation and achievement. We are also pleased to note the initial proposals for securing the Māori visual arts programme currently being offered by Tairāwhiti Polytechnic (Toihoukura).
Equally important will be a comprehensive overview of current and emerging trends in industry, services, and business development, particularly where there are areas that neither institution is currently providing programmes for. A thorough understanding of industry, service, and business requirements within the region, and how these connect with national goals and trends will ensure that the new regional polytechnic is well-placed to respond with appropriate programmes. For example, do the two institutions currently know how well their programme provision is matching the needs of industry and employers in their region? If there are gaps/weaknesses, what does the merged institution propose to do to address these?
Potential impacts on staff
The TEU would not be opposed to rationalization of programme provision and services in some instances if it supports the goal of quality vocational education and training for the region. In saying this however, the union is not agreeing in any way that job losses are the natural consequence of such a process. Indeed the demands for expansion and more in-depth provision that is expected as a result of the merger will require a stable staffing that is appropriately supported to achieving these goals. Both ITPs are major employers in the region; in our view they have at least a dual responsibility to their local communities – to provide quality tertiary education within the region and to act as a good employer by seeking to minimise the impact of this merger on current staff.
Some specific staffing concerns regarding the merger have begun to be discussed by TEU members. No doubt these will be more thoroughly canvassed and discussed with staff of both institutions and their union, should a decision be made to go ahead with the merger, and we recognise that the consultation document is the first stage in a longer process that will ‘hammer out’ the finer details. However initial comments include:
- More detail needs to be provided about how the merger will impact on programmes, staff, students and their communities;
- Concerns about increases in workload, particularly for staff that may be expected to teach or support programmes across regions, (particularly in relation to extended travel and requirements to stay overnight) or where changes to programme delivery are introduced (for example, block courses and online delivery); and
- Concerns that staff at Tairāwhiti Polytechnic may be negatively affected (for example, redundancy, salary differentials, and changes to employment conditions).
Again, we note that many of these types of issues will be discussed in relation to the current collective agreement provisions, however we include them here so that those responsible for making decisions on the merger are reminded of the importance of working closely with staff and their union to ensure the smoothest possible process for bringing the two institutions together.
Communication processes and engagement with community, staff, students and industry
Given the geographical distances between the two institutions, carefully considered processes for communication and consultation will be vital. The merger consultation document notes this (pg. 19 and 20) and the TEU looks forward to working closely with the two institutions to ensure that staff have a strong voice and that their contributions to the process are valued and recognised. Should the merger proceed, a seamless transition into the new institution will be important for students, staff, local businesses and the community. This can be ensured in part by providing robust and transparent consultation and communication processes from the outset.
We are pleased to note that some thought has already been given in the consultation document to how engagement with iwi and hapū might occur (pg. 18 and 19). If the merger proceeds, the two current institutions have a very good opportunity to extend and deepen iwi/hapū relationships, recognising the whakapapa links that exist between iwi and hapū of the two rohe. There are likely to be many opportunities to enter into or extend partnership arrangements with iwi and hapū based on these connections and on their development aspirations in the Gisborne and Hawkes Bay areas.
The naming of the new institution will be an important kaupapa also, and is a further opportunity to engage with iwi/hapū and the community from the outset about the formation of the new organisation.
Probably one of the more significant challenges that the proposed merger may face is how to bring together the distinct organisational cultures of each institution in a way that recognises uniqueness whilst also encouraging the development of a new, collegial environment that supports a new organisation. We expect that the merger team will look to the experiences of other institutions, particularly the staff within those institutions, for suggestions and advice for what is undoubtedly a challenging process for any organisation to undertake.
The proposed merger provides an opportunity for the two institutions to review their overall effectiveness, as the consultation document notes. Part of this evaluation should involve a sustainability audit that looks at the potential impact of servicing a more geographically spread institution, and that explores a variety of options to reduce the institution’s impact on its environment. Such an audit would mean that the new institution could position itself as a leader in sustainable operations amongst public tertiary institution, as well as providing an opportunity to further enhance programmes by integrating a focus on sustainable issues into course content.
Budgeting for a merger
Given that the proposed merger is a one-off financial outlay, we would expect that government recognises this with funding support for the two institutions that meets any transitional costs associated with the process.
The TEU recognises the educational and financial imperatives for considering a merger between EIT and Tairāwhiti Polytechnic. In general we are not opposed to it; however we will be seeking to safeguard our members’ interests in this process, as part of our commitment to ensuring strong and viable ITP provision in Gisborne and the Hawkes Bay that contributes to the success of individuals, whānau, hapū, iwi and industry and businesses within the region.