Tertiary Update - Vol 22 No 2

The Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins must ensure his proposed reform of the vocational education sector protect public provision for future generations of learners, the Tertiary Education Union has said.Minister Hipkins recently opened for consultation some major proposals to change the future of vocational education in New Zealand. One of the most welcome of these is the commitment to end the failed competitive model that has plagued the sector for years and led to a severe decline in the availability of courses across the country.However this is achieved, the final structure of the system needs to be able to meet the needs of communities, students, staff and the economy.The Minister is proposing to do this by creating a single polytechnic with campuses across New Zealand. All training (for people in work and on campuses) would be in the hands of the teaching staff in this national polytechnic i.e. the dual professionals who have expertise in both teaching and their vocation.Regional leadership groups would then be responsible for ensuring that the delivery of education and training meets their community’s needs, from foundation courses through to degrees.The TEU has made clear that whatever the structure of the system it must provide for a nationally coordinated approach to vocational education.It is essential this co-ordinated approach retains regional distinctiveness and the capacity to innovate; that there is a strong voice for students and staff in all decisions and academic leadership on every campus; high-levels of professional autonomy, so that decisions about how to deliver courses are made by the expert teaching professionals; and fully funded student support services.Only then can we ensure we are developing the skills and knowledge we need as a country.Efforts to “save” a local brand that is currently forced to compete with other institutions, will do little to ensure that we as a nation have the builders to build our homes, the doctors or nurses to care for us, or the teachers to teach our kids.Meeting these skills needs will also be compromised unless we get a commitment from the Minister that his reforms will not result in major job losses - and that he will not agree to anything that will transfer jobs away from the regions. The TEU has been asking for this commitment in every meeting it has with the Minister and his officials.Whatever structural change is ultimately decided, the TEU is clear that it must exemplify the ‘just transition’ process which the reform of vocational education is designed to support for the country as a whole.The TEU has not taken a position on what the final structure should be. But has said, whatever is decided, the priority is to work together as a sector to make sure it delivers for all New Zealanders. Unless we do this, there is a risk we lose sight of why we’re all here – to provide life-changing learning opportunities for people. In other words, it doesn’t matter what the final structure is.It has been baffling to see some of the misinformation reaching communities, because there is nothing in the current proposal that suggests campuses will not retain the ability to meet local needs in ways that are distinct, innovative, and creative.Instead of being territorial, and prioritising the brand of individual institutions, let’s focus on ensuring that whatever the final structure, campuses can still provide for their communities. In many places that is not currently the case. Competition is the driving force, and sadly this can, and does, side line community, student and staff involvement in what their institution delivers and to whom.Another area that needs to be addressed, as soon as officials start drafting legislation that will implement the reforms, is the protection of publicly funded and publicly owned provision. The reforms need to survive a change of government, and in no circumstances can there be loop holes that allow for the privatisation of any aspect of our public vocational education system.These are the issues that matter - and they are the issues that affect people and communities most.There is an inherent risk that encouraging people, no matter how implicitly, to oppose major change in favour of a single institution, would undermine what many in the sector have worked so hard to win - an end the market model in tertiary education.The TEU supports the Minister’s efforts in this regard, and reminded people that the final structure is not necessarily the priority issue. Competition just needs to be ended. Unless we all make this clear, we risk making the political consequences of change too great, thus swaying the final decision away from long overdue change.Currently the Minister doesn’t have answers to many of the detailed questions that remain. Our collective efforts need to be focused on filling these gaps. Asking people to attend the various community meetings happening across the country and encouraging them to think about the sector as a whole would be a great way to do this.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Defining vocational education
  2. Whole of sector forum on the horizon

Other news

Alison Clarke has written a book celebrating 150 years of the University of Otago - ODTWintec has put its search for a new Chief Executive on hold - StuffThe University of Otago’s mental health and wellbeing programme for international students has received $52,772 from the Government’s International Student Wellbeing Strategy - ODTThe Ara Institute of Canterbury is becoming an Official Test Centre for PTE Academic, an English language test) - Ara