Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ decision to formally dissolve the combined council of WelTec and Whitireia and appoint a commissioner in its place is a clear sign that New Zealanders cannot afford for the current model of tertiary education provision to continue any longer, and that change is an urgent priority.
Taking effect yesterday, the new commissioner Dr. Neil Barnes’ appointment highlights two important lessons – first, that the failed policies of the last National Government are still being felt across the tertiary sector and placing many of our public institutions in peril, and, second, that students and staff must have a strong voice in the decisions affecting their places of study and work.
Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, said: “Let’s be absolutely clear about this: the Education Minister has no other option but to fundamentally reform the tertiary education sector so that decisions like this do not have to keep being made.
“This is the second time in as many months that the Minister has been forced to appoint a commissioner. It’s time for New Zealand to tell him enough is enough – urgent reform is now essential. The prize of an accessible, equitable tertiary education sector that serves us all is far too great for us to sit back and watch as bailouts keep our institutions open but do little to reverse the harm the last National Government did to our sector.”
The TEU acknowledged that the Minister’s decision was, regrettably, a necessary step to ensure future generations can continue to access life-changing learning opportunities at WelTec and Whitireia.
However, the union reminded New Zealanders that this is not the first time such an appointment has had to be made in recent months.
Most recently Chris Hipkins had to step in at Unitec when the institution fell foul of a now all too familiar pattern in which systemic underfunding, inadequate policy, poor decision-making, and lack of student and staff input in decision-making leads to some institutions needing external help just to keep the doors open.
Staff are increasingly worried that unless urgent changes are made, these commissioner appointments will not be the last.
“The Minister has been taking some great steps towards long-term change for our sector. As we speak he is considering some draft recommendations from his officials about the future of institutes of technology and polytechnics, following a substantial review carried out by the Tertiary Education Commission.
“Chris Hipkins would be doing a disservice to the New Zealand public, who depend so heavily on a quality public tertiary education sector, if urgent reform of the funding model and institutional governance is not made a priority,” Grey said.