Phil Edwards, TEU vice-president and Academic Leader at Otago Polytechnic, makes a compelling case for public tertiary education for the benefits it brings local communities.
How do you become a carpenter? How about a nurse or an automotive engineer? Are you keen to lead people in the outdoors or study Occupational Therapy? Do you like a wine with dinner or like to have someone cook for you? These questions are just a few of those that you can find answers to in the large and diverse number of programmes of study taught in polytechnics and other vocational training establishments around New Zealand.
Taught through a system that creates work-ready graduates with the necessary skills to join industry and contribute immediately. So, whether you are finding your path, changing careers later in life, or searching for your passion, local polytechnics offer rewarding and potentially life changing learning opportunities.
There is a distinct difference between universities and Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP). In the ITP sector, the amount of practice to theory and work integrated learning is higher. Many ITP programmes have well established links with industry and governing practice bodies, helping to ensure students have the skills and attributes to be work ready when they graduate. This is further enabled by the use of what’s known as Permanent External Advisory Committees (PEACs). PEACs are the key formal mechanism for polytechnics crucial two-way partnerships with industry. They act as sounding boards that guide an institution’s programme development and ensure they are teaching skills of direct relevance to industry.
A further difference between universities and ITPs can be seen in where they are located. To attend one of New Zealand eight universities a student must travel, or relocate, to a major centre. By contrast, our sixteen polytechnics and other industry providers are found in the regions and smaller cities and towns throughout New Zealand, providing vital local learning opportunities for thousands of Kiwis.
Whereas polytechnics do often have their main campuses in our smaller cities, they also provide vocational educational services to towns and rural areas at myriad satellite campuses. Two great examples of this are Otago Polytechnic’s Cromwell campus and the Southland Institute of Technology (SIT) campus in Queenstown. Each of these campuses, and the many others like them, deliver programmes of study that directly support local businesses and communities. Otago Polytechnic’s Cromwell campus, for example, teaches viticulture and turf culture, while SIT offers qualifications in travel and tourism in Queenstown.
What this means is that students can study in the place where they will work and while studying undertake work placements with prospective employers. One of the most obvious benefits of this is that young people do not have to leave the regions to study and, therefore, their communities are not diminished by urban drift. Regional and rural campuses also contribute to local economies through local businesses that support their infrastructure, rents and the movement of staff and their families that come to work from outside the regions. Students can also learn locally-relevant skills that will equip them to make huge contributions to the local economy.
For the last nine years, National has undermined the regional provision of vocational based training by reforming the tertiary education sector to act more like a market. This has threatened education in rural and regional communities, where institutes of technology and polytechnics are losing out to for-profit providers. In the last two years alone, funding to public ITPs has shrunk by 5 percent. Changes brought in by National have resulted in significant cuts to programmes, staff numbers and the ability for local students to study close to home and contribute to regional economic growth.
National tried and failed before the election to pass legislation that would have made the situation much worse for regional polytechnics. What they wanted was to further privatise our tertiary education system by requiring Ministers to funnel public funds to for-profit providers that have set up to make money out of competing with public institutions.
In this election we have an opportunity to vote for something different. We have a chance to return to a system where public, community and Iwi providers of tertiary education are supported to teach our future workers they skills they need to thrive. Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and Marama Fox of the Māori party have all committed to supporting a publicly owned and publicly funded tertiary education system. Let’s use the opportunity they have given us and vote to support public tertiary education on 23 September.