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Bold proposal puts people at heart of vocational education

Bold proposal puts people at the heart of vocational education

Staff can turn their attention to opening doors for students and communities with creative teaching, learning, and research under bold changes proposed today for vocational education says the Tertiary Education Union.

Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, today launched a “ Reform of Vocational Education .” The proposed changes are aimed at ending the market competition between education providers which has led to hundreds of courses closing, thousands of students missing out on learning opportunities, an unhealthy growth in management layers in the tertiary education sector, and $100 million in bailouts over the last few years for polytechnics unable to survive financially.

The centre piece of the reform package is ensuring that polytechnic teaching and learning is at the heart of vocational education, in the form of lifelong training and up-skilling for work, and local communities. The proposal is to set up a single institute of technology and polytechnic that would provide expanded in-work, online, and campus-based provision throughout the country.

TEU President Michael Gilchrist says union members have been at the forefront of debates about securing quality education for students no matter where they live or what their background is, and it was heartening that a government has finally heard their advice.

The union released its aspirations for the ITP sector earlier this month.

“There’s lots more planning and thinking to do if we are to really make sure that students, staff, employers, and communities are able to chart their own course when it comes to tertiary education but the Minister’s plan gives us a solid platform to get back to what we love doing – teaching, learning, and research.”

TEU Industrial and Professional vice-president, George Tongariro, is excited by the prospect that he and other lecturers and tutors around the country will be able to ensure courses reflect community needs. Tongariro notes that staff and students at Whitireia Polytechnic were facing losing distinct kaupapa Māori teaching and learning spaces due to the financial and competitive pressures the institution faced under the failed market-model of provision.

He says “The proposal for a single polytechnic to provide courses around Aotearoa is only tenable because there is strong recognition that we have diverse students and communities. This means staff being given the freedom to adapt collectively designed material to reflect local needs and opportunities.”

The TEU notes that the Minister’s bold approach to ensuring every New Zealander has access to education requires staff to have jobs which provide them the freedom to build relationships with students, local businesses, iwi, and communities.

Gilchrist notes “This means good jobs with secure futures, after all staff conditions are work are students’ conditions of learning. The minister is right when he says that ad-hoc approaches were never going to provide the life-long learning opportunities the country needs.”

The bold changes proposed for the sector provide some exciting opportunities, says national secretary Sharn Riggs, but also challenges that staff will have to face together. The Minister, TEC, and current employers need to ensure that staff are well supported through the consultation phase and the changes that will follow.

“Together this union will ensure the innovative and future-focussed ideas of staff keep being heard by the government, but this means being given the time and space to think, meet, and talk.”

We also have been clear with the Minister that having a single polytechnic provides a genuine opportunity to ensure long-term stability of jobs not just in both major centres but also in regional communities who have been the big losers under the previous government’s failed market experiment in tertiary education, Riggs says.

The union is convening a meeting of representatives from all ITPs next Tuesday to discuss the reform proposal, as well as setting up online and face-to-face meeting spaces for staff to collectively respond to the government’s proposal. More details are on the TEU website.

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