Tertiary Education Union - Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) Te Tumu Whakarae-National President Michael Gilchrist addresses the damaging scaremongering and grandstanding by those determined to undermine those in the sector excited by the prospect of positive change.

A decade of cutting funds and letting for-profit companies get public money has left public tertiary education institutions in a shaky place.

But a change in direction is on its way.

This month the Minister of Education put forward major changes aimed at addressing the duplication of courses, the lack of access in regions, the treatment of students as money making widgets, and more.

The plans are big. But TEU members around the country have begun meeting to make sure they contribute positively to the plans to stablise and then grow access to vocational education no matter where you live.

Sadly, our best endeavours to shake off the nerves and address the changes positively are being shouted down by National Party members looking for votes.

Quite frankly, the staff in the sector will not sit by and let National Party MPs derail the involvement of staff, students, and communities in the Reform of Vocational Education.

National’s Shane Reti, and a few other MPs, are making allegations of mass job losses in the vocational education sector if it’s reformed, and seem to be determined to undermine the staff, students, and community involvement in decisions about the future of the sector.

This scaremongering is harming the well-being of staff and students, and doing damage to an already struggling sector by leaking selected fragments of  Cabinet papers with no context or real understanding of where polytechnic and on-job training is right now.

There are 10 years of neglect to undo. Tinkering will only widen the gap between the amazing opportunities that vocational education provides and the reality in communities like Whangarei and Timaru.

It’s unhelpful when politicians grand stand on an issue of which they have little experience.

We need Reti to start acting in a more constructive manner and stop trying to make a political football out of this situation. We also need public support to force all political parties to work together to ensure the Reform of Vocational Education meets the diverse needs of students, employers, and communities.