TEU campaigns and communications officer Sandra Grey was a member of the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology (NZIST) Board of the Establishment Unit. Here, Sandra reflects on both the challenges and opportunities presented by the appointment to a group charged with supporting some of the most significant changes New Zealand’s tertiary education sector has undergone.

In September last year I got a call asking me to consider being on the NZIST Board or working in the Establishment Unit.

As a staff member for the TEU, I was excited that we had again succeeded in making real our arguments that TEU was ‘the voice of the sector’ and ‘deserved of a place at the table’.

But I was also quite challenged by the idea of balancing my ‘outsider’ responsibilities while at the top table.

TEU for good reason often declines a seat at the table with employers because we have to make sure processes are conducted fairly and that we without compromise can defend member interests.

So I knew, and had confirmed, that being at the NZIST Establishment Board table was challenging, but a challenge worth facing.

While at the table the Board agreed to make collaborative design part of the institute’s DNA – that means staff, learners, communities, iwi, and employers will be at the table every day designing the institute and the sector’s future.

I also helped to ensure that stakeholders were there as part of the chief executive appointment process.

My very presence in the room was a constant reminder of the importance of staff in the creation of a network of provision. My experience as a tertiary educator meant I could talk about the impact of strategic decisions on day-to-day teaching, learning, support, and research.

I was able to share the experiences of staff and even took the opportunity to share the research on the State of the Sector commissioned by TEU. I was also able to remind others on the Board that the Charter required NZIST to “empower staff on matters academic, non-academic, and well-being matters and matters relating to the organisation’s practices and services.”

More than once I asked what we were doing to advance active Tiriti o Waitangi relationships, and stood up to ensure our commitment as a union was spoken out loud. I reminded the other Board members that ‘education’ was no ordinary business and that small, regional delivery sites had to be kept open if we were going to meet the demands of the NZIST Charter.

The lines were blurry and I didn’t agree with every decision, but that’s the nature of being at the table. You have to pick what matters you can and can’t effect change on. But on balance being at the table was crucial in this early phase of NZIST.

Thankfully, however, we didn’t put all our eggs in one basket.

As the TEU’s communications and campaigns officer I was only too aware that being at the table wasn’t the solution, it was just one tool.

Perhaps this was acute for me because as an academic, I kept thinking back to an early article I read as part of my social movement scholarship –The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, by Audre Lorde.

My input at the Establishment Board table only had impact because TEU kept lobbying the Minister of Education, talking with current ITP chief executives, putting names forward for the Mobilising the New World workstream, rang and wrote emails to the NZIST establishment team, and, protested publicly in the interests of staff, students and the sector.

Every one of the TEU members who took up the call and leaned into the design of the network of provision we are now charged with keeping on track, who signed a postcard or attended a bake sale, made me stronger and more determined in my role.

Together, we must keep up that effort. We must continue to find every way possible to ensure staff voice is not silenced the way it so often has been under competitive market model approaches to tertiary education.

The door of the house is ajar, we’ve got a toe through, now let’s make sure everyone is able to get into the room.

Thankfully others on the Board and in the Establishment Unit took our voice seriously as well. In particular, the Council Chair, Murray Strong, and unit head Barry Jordan, who met with us repeatedly over the last six months and did it kanohi ki te kanohi. The face-to-face approach works and must continue as we develop the Institute.

Already we’ve had a positive response from the incoming NZIST Chief Executive, Stephen Town, about meeting the TEU nationally, including coming to our TEU national conference and joining us for our RoVE Reference Group zoom hui.

We will be providing Stephen Town with an initial briefing which has been drawn together following your input into a survey in February. We have also shared with him our foundational work: Changing Lives ; State of the Sector; and Te Koeke Tiriti .

We will encourage members to put their names forward for the collaborative design groups as they come up. We will ensure that the staff committee which the Government has legislated must exist is able to ensure the voice of ALL staff is represented. And we will keep lobbying the government to ensure Workforce Development Councils and Regional Skills Leadership Groups listen to the voice of the professionals working in tertiary education.

We stand united in building a vocational education and training system that works for all learners, their whānau, and communities. As we said in our definition of vocational education:

“Vocational education and training is a powerful instrument for enabling every citizen to face new challenges and find their roles as a member of a community. It is an instrument that empowers people to be life-long learners, with the ability to flourish in rewarding careers and meaningful work over the long term. It contributes to the full development of the human personality, social mobility, the reduction of inequality, and the betterment of society”.

Together we will continue to compare progress within the sector against this definition, as the voice of the tertiary education sector.