Craig West, TEU branch president and senior lecturer at Te Kura Matatini ki Otago | Otago Polytechnic, shares his thoughts on the immediate need for improved funding of the ITP sector.

Last year, in an opinion piece for the Otago Daily Times, I wrote about TEU’s call for the Government to step up in its support of the vocational education and training system and for investment in the transformation and stabilisation of Aotearoa’s struggling polytechnics.

Over the past year, as staff, students, communities have faced additional challenges, TEU has continued to lead discussions on the need to fund for stability. We know the current model of funding puts the entire ITP sector at risk, as management use financial difficulty as an excuse to cut courses and opportunities. One year on, it’s disappointing that there has been such little movement by the Government on the issue of funding.

There is an immediate need to stabilise Te Pūkenga to progress it in to the future, and TEU’s briefing makes a strong case for the need to address funding as a core priority for the current Government.

TEU members, the educators and staff in the tertiary education sector, are still hopeful that the creation of Te Pūkenga signals the beginning of the end of the competitive practices that so harmed our sector. For regional ITPs, the reforms will mean smaller providers outside of our city centres will be able to flourish without the ever-present anxiety over securing enough student numbers to keep programmes running, and without the fear of job losses from semester to semester, year to year, if those numbers drop.

For staff, the increased security the reforms will enable mean staff will know their job is going to be there without living by each semester, wondering if its going to be the last. It  means students will know what courses are going to be available at their local ITP, and that it’s not going to be there one year and not the next. For their communities, it means there will be a fully functioning polytechnic that enriches the institution, whānau and wider region. It will improve opportunities and wellbeing across the board.

But the ITP sector still desperately needs stabilisation to enable this much needed transformation. We need stability now to ensure that cuts to staff and educational opportunities will not continue while we wait for a long-awaited improvement to the funding system. The Minister must act now.