A proposed merger for New Zealand’s 16 polytechnic and technology institutes has been approved for April 2020.
As reported by Craccum in March, the Government has been trying to form a “unified, coordinated, national system of vocational education and training” for a while. In March, the Government hinted this national system would likely involve a single governing body overseeing the resource management, budget allocation and staffing of all sixteen existing institutes.
Now, it seems that plan is being put into action. The merger will be effective as of April 1st next year, and will see all sixteen institutes brought under the over-arching “New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology”. The reform will also see the formation of industry-government Workforce Development Councils, and will ensure Centres for Vocational Excellence are set up in regional campuses.
Hipkins says the changes “will give industry greater control over all aspects of vocational education and training, making the system more responsive to employers’ needs and to the changing world of work”.
However, not all are convinced. Lobbying action against the merger has persisted in the Otago region, where constituents contend the integration will be damaging to its existing institutes, Otago Polytechnic and Southern Institute of Technology (SIT), which have both seen high enrolment numbers and profitability whilst being run autonomously.
SIT executive Penny Simmonds says the proposal “looks potentially damaging for SIT and Southland”, while Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt has gone as far as to say the Government is “punishing [the Otago Polytechs] for being a success”. “I believe our community is outraged about this proposal and we’re going to do everything we can do to stop that,” Shadbolt promised the media.
Hipkins denies the new system will hurt the Otago region, saying he believes the proposal retains the capability for “local and regional innovation”. “There will still be good regional responsiveness, local voices will still be heard,” he says, “[but] the plain truth is that while there are some bright spots, the current system is not set up to produce skilled people at the scale we need”.
The Southland community are not the only party critical of the merger. National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says “more than a thousand jobs will be lost” as a result of the change. Meanwhile, CEO of ‘the Skills Group’ Garry Fisseden does not believe Industry Training Organizations (ITOs) should be dissolved as a result of the merger as they are an “essential part in bridging the communication gap between industry and learning institutions”.
Hipkins remains confident that he has “listened carefully to the concerns” of employers, students and the wider community.