Major changes for Polytechnics proposed by Government

Polytechnics around the country have been struggling financially for some time. In response the Government is proposing all sixteen Polytechnics be merged into one ‘entity’ called the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology (even the acronym NZIST or NZIOSAT will not be particularly catchy).

Public consultation on the proposed will run to 27th March, so this looks like a rush job, particularly compared to a lot of long drawn out inquiries and working groups.

I can’t see the changes signalled in Labour’s 2017 election manifesto, and it is not mentioned in either governing agreement with NZ First or the Greens.

Beehive: A new future for work skills training in NZ

Education Minister Chris Hipkins today released wide-ranging proposals for strengthening vocational education so that school leavers get high quality training opportunities, employers get the skills they need and New Zealanders are better equipped for the changing nature of work.

“Instead of our institutes of technology retrenching, cutting programmes, and closing campuses, we need them to expand their course delivery in more locations around the country.

“It’s time to reset the whole system and fundamentally rethink the way we view vocational education and training, and how it’s delivered.

“The Coalition Government proposes to establish a unified, coordinated, national system of vocational education and training. The proposals are:

  • Redefined roles for education providers and industry bodies (Industry Training Organisations (ITOs)) to extend the leadership role of industry and employers;
  • Bringing together the 16 existing ITPs as a one entity with the working title of the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology with a robust regional network of provision; and
  • A unified vocational education funding system.

“We would also ensure there’s strong regional influence in the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology through the proposed formation of Regional Leadership Groups which would identify the needs of the local economy and become a key link between local government, employers, iwi and communities.

“The development of courses and programmes would be consolidated, improving consistency and freeing up resources to expand front-line delivery. There will be more sharing of expertise and best-practice, and more use of online, distance, and blended learning.

“The Government envisages that the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology, and perhaps also wānanga, host Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs). These power houses of expertise could cover key sectors and industries, which could be broad (eg, agriculture) or specific (eg, viticulture).

“What we are proposing is ambitious, but it needs to be. We cannot continue to tweak the system knowing that the model is fundamentally broken, and isn’t delivering our workforce the skills that they need to thrive.

“The proposals released today may go ahead in this or another form, but the Government won’t make any decisions until we have heard and carefully considered feedback from this consultation process,” Chris Hipkins said.

Public consultation is open until 27 March.

Six weeks seems a short timeframe for consultation on such major changes. .

It has been reported that the intention is to have these changes up and running by the end of the year.

Hipkins seems to be one of the better ministers for providing information available.

The decision making documents are dated from 28 March 2018, showing that changes have been considered for at least a year, probably initiated just after Hipkins took over as Minister of Education.

There was no mention of reform of Polytechnics in either the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement or the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement.

There is no mention of it in Labour’s Vision for Education, their 2017 campaign policy document.

From Labour’s Education Manifesto:

Strong Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics

Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) are a crucial element of New Zealand’s tertiary education system. They play a key role in ensuring that the workforce has the skills and training to drive innovation and to ensure labour market needs are met. They are important for regional development, and serve as economic ‘anchors’ for the communities they serve.

  • Labour will ensure that there is a strong network of regional public institutions dedicated to meeting the labour market and skill needs of our regions.
  • Labour will establish Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) to be based at Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics to provide a focus for driving excellence in training, research and innovation in a particular industry
  • Labour will improve the way that ITPs and ITOs work together including through joint curriculum development, clearer qualifications and more flexible learning pathways.

I can’t see any reference in the rest of the manifesto for centralising administration of the Polytechnics.

They emphasise “Labour will ensure that there is a strong network of regional public institutions”.

It will be interesting to see how they achieve this by merging 16 regional providers into one centralised body – I presume centralised in Wellington or Auckland.

Labour’s tertiary election policy

Labour launched a refined tertiary education policy yesterday – they had already indicated what they would be offering some time ago. Key pledges – from the start of 2018:

  • Boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week (currently about $170).
  • Everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free.

To be “funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan” – that must be additional spending on education.

This is a big push to get the young vote. I’m not sure it will have the same impact on parents and grandparents that the Labour interest free loans policy had in 2005 (that is regarded as swinging that election in Helen Clark’s favour).

Labour’s summary:

Labour to make continuing education more accessible

Labour will increase the amount students can get in student allowances and living cost loans by $50 a week, while accelerating our plan to make three years of post-secondary education free, says Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern.

“Labour’s plan will mean more young people can go on to study after school and gain qualifications with less debt.

“Students have told us that the priority needs to be living costs. Just getting by week-to-week has become a significant barrier to many people continuing to study.

“Right now a typical student receives an allowance of around $170, but many tell me that’s not enough to even cover their rent.

“Labour will therefore boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week from the start of 2018.

“I’m keen to remove tertiary fees as quickly as possible, so I have brought forward by one year our three years’ free policy. From the beginning of 2018, everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free. That will be extended to two years free in 2021 and three years free in 2024. If conditions allow, we will accelerate this policy further.

“At the same time, we will restore the ability of people studying on long courses, like medicine, to get student allowances and loans. These high-level qualifications are in growing demand; it makes no sense to deny support to people studying towards them.

“This policy is funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan, which has been independently assessed by BERL.

“Post-secondary school qualifications are becoming a necessity. If New Zealand is to be a wealthy, successful country in the 21st Century we need more of our young people going on to universities, polytechnics, other tertiary providers, or industry training such as apprenticeships.

“Yet, the proportion of young people in post-secondary school education and training is falling. We can’t continue going backwards on education if we want to go forwards as a country.

“Our commitment to life-long learning underlines the clear choice voters face this election – Labour believes in free education for everyone, and that’s what we’re working towards,” says Jacinda Ardern.

Free tertiary education for everyone is a big aim. Balanced against the promotion of better education is the risk of too much irrelevant education that won’t help people get better jobs, and too many people taking on free education when they are not capable of passing.

The costings should take into account of a probable need to expand universities and polytechnics to cater for increased numbers of students.