Polytechnic mega-merger proposal – In the News

The Government’s six week consultation period over plans to overhaul of vocational education has some in the sector worried that their voices won’t be heard.   

This week Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced three key proposals: merging New Zealand’s 16 polytechs under the banner of one centralised New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology; creating a new vocational education funding system; and making the new national organisation responsible for 145,000 trainees and apprentices to better align on and off-the-job education.

Hipkins said the proposals come at a time when the country is facing skills shortages and too many polytechnics were going broke. The sector as a whole lost $53 million in 2017 and last year four polytechs together received Crown bailouts totalling $100 million.

Newsroom’s Laura Walters pointed out that the reforms are similar to the Tomorrow’s Schools review –  at its core, the proposal removes competition from the education sector.

“In both cases, the Government concluded the systems were broken and needed fundamental changes, moving towards a more centralised system and doing away with the autonomy of separate institutions,” she wrote.

National is yet to make a decision on whether it would stick with the Government’s plan to centralise the vocational education industry, but things aren’t looking great in terms of cross-party support. The party has said the six-week consultation period is insufficient, while the lack of detail around job losses, campus closures and funding is not good enough, Walters reported.

Some of those concerns are shared by others who will be affected by the reforms.

Association of Students at UCOL president Karla Davis told Stuff reform needed to happen because institutes couldn’t keep getting bailed out by the Government. However, she wanted to ensure vocational training students were listened to during the consultation.

“I’d like to see where the student voice is going to be in this whole process. That wasn’t made clear [on Wednesday] and I’m just a little bit concerned how much the student voice is going to be heard in this.”

Garry Fissenden, chief executive New Zealand’s largest industry training organisation The Skills Organisation, told Newsroom the Government’s solution put solving the financial woes of the country’s polytechnics ahead of a thorough consultation process.

“There are 25,000 firms and 145,000 trainees across New Zealand impacted by the proposed reforms. The Government has spent a year consulting with polytechs leading up to today’s release. They have now scheduled a six-week consultation window to receive feedback from, and genuinely respond to, thousands of Kiwi employers and apprentices – the actual recipients of the system. You do the math.”

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope was among those supporting the reforms. He told the NZ Herald he was “very positive about the change”. The current system was failing to provide skilled New Zealanders to meet labour shortages, forcing employers to import immigrant labour.

“In particular, ITPs should be performing much better. That is a weakness in the system,” he said. “We will be pushing for a greater integration of the workplace, and a greater appreciation of the value of the workplace, as a platform for learning.”

RNZ education reporter John Gerritsen, in his analysis on Morning Report, said: “I don’t think anyone was expecting for the Government to go for – I suppose what you’d call the ‘Nuclear Option’ – of merging all 16 institutes.”

What had been thought more likely was a national body to coordinate the polytechs’ efforts and take over back-office functions.

He said there was agreement among “quite a few of the CEOs” that the reforms could work, but they’d need to tease through some of the details. If the Government wanted to convince training providers they were a good idea, it was going to have to wrestle with concerns about the regions becoming an afterthought in a centralised institute.

Coverage of the Government’s vocational education reforms includes:

Newsroom: Bipartisanship would be valuable for Govt’s big education plans
Newsroom: Timeline tight for critical skills education reform
RNZ: Govt’s proposed polytech merger – analysis
RNZ: ‘NZ Institute of Skills and Technology’: 16 polytechs to merge under government proposal
NZ Herald: Polytechnic mega-merger will take over apprentices and industry trainees
Stuff: Government proposes merging 16 polytechnics and technology institutes into single entity
Stuff: Polytech restructure could strengthen Palmerston North’s education role