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Expertise and resources the key to education reform

Ensuring students get access to expert teachers and industry practitioners is the focus of the Tertiary Education Union’s submission on the Reform of Vocational Education made public today. But the best laid plans for the future will not succeed unless the government steps up with transition funding for the beleaguered polytechnic sector.

Thousands of TEU members have been involved in meetings on campuses, completed online surveys, and participated in submission writing to inform the TEU’s contributions to the vocational education conversation.

National President Michael Gilchrist says “What these conversations have shown is tertiary education institutions can’t focus properly on learning outcomes when they fear losing funding for students because those students get jobs part way through their studies. They are penalised for success. That’s why we’re supporting the single funding model for those training on campuses and in-work.”

“But sadly the Minister’s vision of every New Zealander being able to move between in-work and on-campus training will remain a dream unless the government provides proper transition funding for any changes agreed to by cabinet.”

Gilchrist says polytechnic chief executives have continued to review courses and student services in order to trim budgets even as the system-wide review is conducted.

“In some communities we will have no on-campus provision left on which to build a coordinated vocational system if the chief executives don’t take a breath and stop planned cuts, and if the government doesn’t step up with transition funding.”

The TEU is also calling for the Minister of Education to reveal how he will review the entire tertiary education funding model.

National Secretary, Sharn Riggs, says removing competition between the existing tertiary education providers and putting in place a platform for closer collaboration on core functions – from curriculum design to student management systems – will benefit students and industry. And it can be done in a way that supports good jobs in all the communities served by existing polytechnics.

However consolidation alone is not going to save the sector. Persistent underfunding of tertiary education has run down our institutions and the staff.

“You can’t teach at the cutting edge of industry if you don’t have the machinery and technology to do it. You can’t innovate when every minute of the day is filled covering classes because there aren’t enough tutors”, says Riggs.

“If we want a vocational education system that contributes to solving climate change and delivering builders to help turn around our housing crisis, that creates cutting edge innovators and nurses who care for us when we are ill, then it’s time the Minister reviewed the entire tertiary education funding system.”

Beyond the funding concerns, Michael Gilchrist notes the government’s willingness to recognise the expertise of the teaching, administrative, and support staff in polytechnics is crucial to designing the future has been a hugely positive factor in the review process.

“Over the last 18 months we’ve sat alongside chief executives, students, the Industry Training Federation, government officials and community members discussing the vocational education reform. It was disappointing that the professional knowledge of trained polytechnic tutors and the importance of their relationship with students to quality learning outcomes has not always been recognised by others.”

The TEU supports the establishment of Industry Skills Bodies and stronger coordination of vocational education but stresses teaching and learning experts are at the heart of decision-making about what should be taught and how it should be taught.

Gilchrist says “we need the government to continue to recognise the teaching expertise of the dual professionals working in polytechnics as the reforms progress. And we need recognition that staff conditions of work impact on the quality of the teaching and learning experience.”

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