The Budget and Equity in Te Pūkenga.

By Sarah Hardman (Unitec) and Cynthia Martell-Stark (Toi Ohomai)

Last Thursday’s announcement disarmed us somewhat by allocating more funding to our sector than we had been expecting to receive, but what does that mean for addressing equity across the Te Pūkenga network?

The biggest equity issues facing ākonga and kaimahi are driven by the economic downturn and the climate crisis. When Peter Winder sent a message to all staff following the Budget announcement, he referred to cash for IT systems before he mentioned money for other spending, which suggests to me where his priorities lie. Big new computer systems don’t have a great track record when it comes to delivering things that actually make a difference to people’s lives – and Te Pūkenga management have a lot of faith in “solutions” like online learning.

Online learning is not a solution for people who live a long way from a campus, but what is a solution for them is access to teaching from a well-resourced and skilful teacher. It’s hugely important that funding is used to stop the loss of experienced and skilled educators from the sector. Money needs to be spent on things that will actually enhance the learning experience and success of ākonga, which I’d suggest is largely around freeing teaching staff to provide support to their students.

Work-based learning is not the solution for a significant proportion of ākonga – our students, Māori, Pacific, older second chance need to be in classrooms and to have access to this before they can benefit from work-based learning.

Many learners are the first in their family to access tertiary education and they need to develop their confidence to succeed: what might be a small obstacle to others is a huge barrier for them.

Interacting with skilled educators, campus-based support services that work kanohi ki te kanohi and (very importantly) with classmates so that they can build community is absolutely vital for these learners. Neither work-based nor online learning can provide this in the same way. How can the Charter equity objectives be met if these students lose their access? Students who are not retained in programmes are more likely to be from equity groups. Another problem is that entry level programmes often fall victim to “demand-based” cuts, yet these programmes are often important entry points for learners from equity groups.

Literacy, numeracy and ESOL present significant barriers to many (probably a majority) of Te Pūkenga learners. Educators need to have the skills to address these issues. In the development of the Te Pūkenga structure, foundational education skills were not addressed at all until relatively late in the process and professional development (aka tertiary teacher basic training) is still invisible.

Learners entering the system with an inadequate learning foundation often bring diverse richness of experience as individuals, but their disadvantage needs to be addressed over a relatively long learning time, in order to make a lifelong difference. Support offered tends to be patchy and short-term in nature. This also applies to the increasing number of neurodiverse learners (or, the increasing number of identified neurodiverse learners). The biggest factor affecting their success is the ability of teachers to give them time and individual or small group attention.

There is $17.1 million for an increase in apprenticeships, which is welcome news for many whānau who need to get their young people into steady jobs. In Tāmaki Makaurau, the pan-iwi initiative Tāmaki 10,000 (supported in the Regional Skills Leadership Group plan) has exactly this objective for Māori: 10,000 good jobs.

Yet, economic downturn means that fewer employers can afford to employ apprentices: increasing apprenticeship placements is pointless unless it is also accompanied by support such as for community-led businesses and social procurement goals. Train young people to build and maintain homes and other resources for their own community if you want to reduce inequality. What’s more, if you want to increase the number of women taking up apprenticeships – and retain them in the trades – there needs to be effective support for these women to reduce disadvantage which is often hidden and insidious.

There is more money for TEC to fund learners in the pipeline but the control over what this is spent on remains with TEC. There are few checks and balances that review whether community voice is heard and most of the funding mechanisms are not significantly different from previous ones. TEU has pointed out how funding based on completion of a 16-week or more programme ignores the learner who doesn’t complete but whose life is significantly changed.

In short, there are some good initiatives outlined in Budget 2023, but as with most things in life, the devil is in the detail.