The ideologically-driven restructuring experiment embarked on by Unitec’s previous executive leadership team, with the blessing of former Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce, is one of the main reasons why current Education Minister, Chris Hipkins has been forced to dissolve the institution’s Council and appoint a Commissioner in its place.
That’s the verdict of an independent report published today into the disastrous reforms implemented at Unitec between 2015 and 2017. Reacting to the report, the Tertiary Education Union said the best conclusion to draw from its findings is that the appointment of a Commissioner and new executive leadership team offers new hope for Unitec. The TEU said it looks forward to working with all parties to ensure a bright future for the institution.
Clearly, one priority for the new team will be to avoid the mistakes of the past. Ignoring the unambiguous and compelling advice of experienced staff working at the institution, Unitec’s former executive leadership team recklessly pursued structural changes that mirrored the vision former Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce had for the whole sector. Changes included a massive shift to online delivery and learning, the contracting out of student services, and the disestablishment of units focused on Māori and Pasifika. The introduction of The Common Semester, whereby subject-specific introductory courses were replaced with generic content was another unmitigated failure, impacting particularly on Māori and Pasifika.
Unitec’s reputation for delivering life-changing learning opportunities to the local community was dealt a severe blow by the changes – a reputation that staff and the new executive leadership team are working hard to recover. Enrolments plummeted by 20 per cent overall during the period of reform, with domestic enrolments alone dropping by 23 per cent. The reforms also led to massive redundancies and the replacement of hard-working, dedicated and high-skilled staff with casual, part-time appointments that had little commitment to the institution and its students.
Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, said:
“Unitec has a proud history of delivering high quality learning opportunities that connect students to their future families, communities, careers and prosperity. It has been heart-breaking to see that reputation go up in smoke thanks to the changes heedlessly pursued by the previous executive leadership team.
“What makes reading this report even harder is that the TEU repeatedly warned previous managers that their reforms would have disastrous consequences for students, staff and the local community. If there is one lesson that the new Commissioner and executive leadership team can take from this report, it’s that they must make sure the expertise and experience of staff is given a permanent seat at the decision making table.
“The TEU has been working well with the new executive leadership team, and now that a Commissioner has been appointed we have an opportunity to work together to rebuild Unitec and return it to its rightful place as one of the best places for people to come to learn new skills, develop trades and create knowledge that benefits us all.”