Tertiary Update - Vol 22 No 3

Michael Gilchrist, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, considers what impact ongoing change in the vocational education system could have on the Minister's planned reforms, and the role of the proposed new Industry Skills Bodies.New Zealand’s current vocational education and training system needs to change. There is broad agreement about that.We know that because we have been working under the systems and processes put in place by the last government – a Government more interested in competition and creating artificial marketplaces than students’ learning.Thanks to what National did, vocational education providers currently have to compete for a shrinking pool of student fees and subsidies. Their market-based experiment has been a spectacular failure.And it has led to relentless reviews; increased uncertainty and stress among staff; job losses; course cuts; and constant upheaval. The subsequent impact on our communities and students, and hundreds of whānau up and down the country has been huge.One of the challenges, therefore, for the Education Minister Chris Hipkins, as he presses ahead with reforming the sector, is making sure there is something he can rebuild from.That means making sure there are no further courses cuts and that the incredible people working in the sector are retained. What we need is a sector we can believe in again, to be listened to, and to know their workplaces will reflect their local communities.Take Whitireia/Weltec, for example. That organisation is currently looking to make cuts of $9 million in its expenditure, approximately 15 per cent of the overall budget. By far the largest part of those cuts would be in staffing costs. Once these jobs go, they rarely come back. And without them, the Minister will find it incredibly difficult to implement his reforms.It is incumbent on Chris Hipkins, therefore, to explain how people fit into his new system, whatever structure he decides to implement.These are the sorts of issues you can share your views about in a survey we have opened until Monday next week.Another challenge facing the Minister is making sure our vocational education system can meet the challenges of the future. New Zealand needs the life-long – and life changing - learning opportunities a good vocational education system brings.We need to build new homes, to renovate properties so they provide warm, low carbon housing. We need to develop other infrastructure so it can cope with the stress climate change will put on it. And we need to be able to build a diverse economy that provides opportunities and fulfilling work.Chris Hipkins’ answer to ensuring the vocational education can meet these needs has included creating a unified vocational education system. If he decides to go ahead with this after the current consultation closes, all students and trainees will be learning under a single, national organisation.So far we have not seen a enough from the Minister about how staff expertise will be retained and developed under this system. Nor have we seen a commitment to bring an immediate end to the changes National inflicted on the sector, so that reform can happen based on what we have now, not after another 12 months of review and cuts.One of the most significant consequences of the Minister’s proposals will be to redefine the role of the current Industry Training Organisations (ITOs).The TEU has been working extremely hard to shape the Minister’s plans for over a year, and now they’re out for consultation we’re working in every branch to help get the answers to the many questions staff have about what the proposals may mean for their work.Our priorities include making sure staff have autonomy over their work and a strong say in the decisions that affect their workplace. Ultimately, whatever the Minister decides, students must have better and more equitable access to learning opportunities in their communities.On the job training is an important part of this, and what Chris Hipkins is proposing is that ITOs become ‘Industry Skills Bodies’.This is about much more than a simple name change. It’s about getting these organisations back to their original purpose, which was to look at what skills are needed in industry and to work with the tertiary sector to deliver them.Industry Skills Bodies (ISBs) would, essentially, ‘book-end’ on-the-job training. At one end they would identify the training needs of industry and employers. At the other end they would work with NZQA to develop summative assessments that determine whether students have met those needs and industry-wide standards.Teaching and learning staff must then be able to determine what is taught and how it is taught - with industry informing the curriculum alongside iwi and community.Staff are best placed to ensure provision works for students in their communities, disciplines, trades, vocations, and professions - and how this can be done while fitting in to the national network of provision.Part of this is also about making sure every campus has academic leaders and decision-makers who are able to ensure the campus has appropriate academic and support services to meet student, community, and employer needs.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Minister agrees with TEU to keep jobs in regions
  2. The future of work is in our hands
  3. Let’s make the sector work better for women
  4. Living Wage at Vic campaign relaunch
  5. New report shows some progress on pay equity
  6. Restore post-grad allowances urgently
  7. One week until sector comes together to discuss future

Other news

Turnitin has been sold to a technology, communications, and media company for £1.3 billion ($ paywall) - THEThe Tertiary Education Commission has updated its Investment Toolkit - TECSalvation Army Education and Employment is considering closing all 21 of its centres around New Zealand - ODT