Over the weekend, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he expected there to be fewer polytechnics left once the recommendations of the Tertiary Education Commission’s ITP Roadmap project and the Ministry’s review of vocational education and training were implemented.Two years ago, when Aoraki Polytechnic and the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology merged to create the Ara Institute of Canterbury, the National Government at the time said the change would lead to the highest quality tertiary education in the South Canterbury region.Steven Joyce, then the Tertiary Education Minister, said the merge would lead to more educational choice, not less. The TEU warned that this would not be the case, and subsequent job and course cuts across the institution have justified the concern.In light of this experience, and the Minister’s comments over the weekend, it is absolutely crucial that Chris Hipkins and his officials listen to the first hand experience of staff that have been through a merger.The Minister would be wise to hold a forum with staff with recent experience of a merger so that he can learn these lessons directly – and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.In the meantime, in the post below Jill Milburn, a Principal Lecturer in Bakery, at the Ara Institute of Canterbury shares her contribution to the ITP Roadmap project from the perspective of an institution that has recently experienced a merger.

Lessons from the Ara Institute of Canterbury

Merging with a larger organisation does undoubtedly help with financial viability. Further, it does create the opportunity to benefit from proven expertise from across the two organisations, including opportunities to collaborate and share ideas, experiences and best practice.In our case we have been able to build a community across multiple campuses. From this we have been able to establish direct interaction and contact with the teams of dedicated staff in agriculture, trades,hospitality, business, computing, health, arts and media, tourism and sports.Even though very small, the southern campuses have a proven track record of good completion rates, good quality systems and expertise in self-assessment and reflection. We have been able to share this with other parts of the institutions.However, this has come at a cost. As a result of the merger we lost some of our unique identity, culture and diversity. Aoraki had its own culture and diversity within its four campuses - Oamaru, Timaru, Ashburton and Christchurch – and it has been really disappointing to see this slowly eroded.One of the biggest impacts though has been the loss of leadership and any direct accountability for decisions at the southern campuses. Most, if not all, managers are based in Christchurch which has left a huge leadership vacuum.Even though we do have a good community of people on the southern campuses, the loss of leadership has also hindered our ability to build strong links with other stakeholders in the local area.A lot of this has work has been lost and now all schools, industry and community queries are dealt with in Christchurch. In some cases this can mean issues are managed in a way that does not take account of local experience.What smaller campuses need is a strong voice in institution decision-making. This could, for example, be through a local campus manager reporting directly to the chief executive.Related to this, is the need for a structure of good communication, trust and respect between the larger and smaller parts of the institution.Through improved communication right across the institution and stronger local accountability, it will be possible to develop a strategic plan that outlines the important role of smaller campuses in the institution’s future.This will provide a degree of job security to the dedicated, hard-working and passionate staff on the smaller campuses. These are people that value highly the important position of their campus in the local community and they want to know they can continue to play a part in delivering life changing learning opportunities for future generations.Any strategic plan must also include a strong role for students in decision-making across the institution. Again, it could be that each campus has its own student leader that is supported to contribute the voice of students to decision-making.