The government have recently submitted a proposal to merge the nation’s 16 polytechnic institutes into one, under the title of the ‘NZ Institute of Skills and Technology’, which the government promises to provide “a unified, coordinated, national system of vocational education and training”.
A single governing council would be put into place, and would oversee the standardization of resource management, budget allocation and staffing. “A consolidated organisation would make better strategic use of capital, [and] achieve greater efficiency in programme design, development and delivery,” education minister Chris Hipkins believes. “The world around us is changing rapidly and our education system needs to keep up”.
The way Hipkins proposes the system will function is that the ‘New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology” will host several ‘Centres of Vocational Excellence’ (CoVEs). These would provide tertiary training covering NZ’s key sectors and industries, either broad or specific (eg. agriculture, viticulture).
The government also proposes “a unified vocational education funding system”, which has already been met with disapproval by the Southern Institute of Technology, down in Southland. Chief Executive Penny Simmonds expressed her concern that the proposal “looks potentially damaging for SIT and Southland,” as institute’s reputation amongst students brought a substantial inflow of cash to the local economy. “It’s a very big game changer for Invercargill,” Simmonds recognizes. “For housing, employment, and businesses”.
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt also expressed his similar concern; “[they’re] punishing us for being a success”. He describes SIT being ‘thieved’ of its cash reserves and assets as being detrimental to the polytechnic, and he believes this is the sole motivation behind the coalition government’s proposal. “We were assured when the first round of consultations took place that we would have nothing to worry about. Now we most certainly have something to worry about and I can’t imagine anything more damaging to SIT or its distance learning program”.
Despite this, Hipkins remains positive that the proposal will bring about beneficial change for all potential mergees involved. “Polytechs that are doing well will continue to do well,” he tells RNZ. “This isn’t just about solving the financial difficulties of the polytechnics that have been in trouble… but actually there are broad problems with the way they operate”.