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NZ slipping off OECD perch for vocational tertiary education

NZUSA media release – 14 September 2012

NZ slipping off OECD perch for vocational tertiary education?

In its review of this week’s OECD report on trends in publicly supported education, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) has noted that entry rates for vocational tertiary education programmes of the kind delivered at our institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) may be slipping.

New Zealand has a good standing in terms of employment rates of people with vocational and general upper secondary education – at 5th place in the OECD. However entry rates for lower level tertiary qualifications have show an overall decline in the last decade and, in contrast to many countries, those rates have begun leveling off.

“Any diminishing of the role played by ITPs in providing tertiary education that is attuned to local and regional needs, has to be opposed,” says NZUSA executive director Dr Alistair Shaw.

“Tertiary sector unions are certainly bringing a bigger focus to ITPs, with both the president of the NZUSA (Pete Hodkinson, ex-Unitec) and newly elected Tertiary Education Union president Lesley Francey (MIT) all too aware of how the representation of community and student voices has been eroded under the current Government – despite being proven as critical success factors”.

On average, 11% of young adults in OECD countries complete vocationally-oriented programmes; and as with university level programmes, completion rates are higher for women than for men. According to the OECD report New Zealand is one of a handful of countries - including Canada, Slovenia, Ireland and Japan - where more than 20% of young people graduate from vocational programmes.

Given the global economic crisis the incentive for people to build vocational skills that will benefit their communities and the economy is growing stronger. As noted in the OECD’s report the benefits to the public purse are higher when people complete tertiary education. In addition completing tertiary education reduces unemployment among 25-29 year-olds by 2.3 percentage points compared to those who complete upper secondary education.

Vocational education and training (VET) is generally geared towards giving students relevant labour market skills for a particular occupation or industry. Research cited by the OECD has shown that investing in VET can yield good economic returns and countries with strong VET systems, like Germany, have been relatively successful in tackling youth unemployment, during a period when fewer than 50% of 15-29 year-olds in OECD countries have jobs.

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