New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations National President JamesRanstead argues student voice is crucial in the Reform of VocationalEducationSubmissions received by the Government during the consultation periodfor the Reform of Vocational Education point to a fragmented education andtraining system. Currently it is difficult for organisations to collaborate and hard for learners to move between or combine on-the-job and off-the-job learning.To address these issues, the Government has announced their proposal toredefine roles for industry bodies and education providers. This would seea streamlining of the education to work transitions, and the role ofsupporting workplace learning and assessment transferred to regionalvocational education providers.Through our own extensive student consultation, NZUSA has found that themajority of polytechnic students do want to enhance the education to worktransition. Students identify their studies as having a clear link anddirect line of sight to their desired future career.Students have also made it clear to us that they would prefer havingindustry influence on campus, as opposed to siloed, independent campusesremoved from their desired career.These findings are particularly clear with those students that study in thenationally popular, more traditional vocational fields such as nursing.As we’ve travelled through the country to discuss vocational education ithas been heartening to hear the strong identification students have fortheir communities and regions. And it has been clear that polytechnics arecrucial to regions, that they are the lifeblood of local communities.They’re where people are driven to reach their potential, families striveto better themselves and local economies are built.Students at polytechnics value the distinct lifetime experience of studyingfor a qualification, the opportunity to learn about themselves and theirpeers, and to engage in constructive discussion and critical thinking.What’s more, students relish the opportunity to do so in their owncommunities, and with established support networks of friends and whanau.The changes proposed by the government signal a greater appreciation ofwhat polytechnics provide their students and regions - expertise indelivering education, pastoral care, and a physical space for the sharingof ideas, the creation of community, and the fostering of a shared studentvoice.The proposed changes also recognise the importance of industry support andknow-how.But with greatly enhanced industry influence, there is, however, a clearrisk that the student voice will be crowded out.Student voice is currently hugely unequal amongst institutions within thepolytechnic sector. Many do not have any form of student voice, others haveminimal. Some have a functioning students’ association and student voicestructure, but are greatly limited by resource constraints and theever-present risk of funding cuts. And in most industry training spacesthere is no way for students to have a voice.Student representation at every level is crucial to ensuring the success ofthese reforms. The NZUSA has therefore recommended students be representedin the proposed Regional Leadership Groups and that a Student Advisory Subcommitteecomprised of representatives from regional campuses is formed. The proposed reformsto vocational education offer both challenges and opportunities.From a student perspective, it’s vital that student voice is maintained andenhanced. Students are ready to step up and meet this challenge, we justhope that the government and institutional leaders are as well. Theproposed reforms offer much for students and the communities they live in,but only seats alongside decision makers will make sure our best intereststo be served.