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Risky privatisation not the answer to Unitec’s PTE woes

Risky privatisation not the answer to Unitec’s PTE woes

07 August 2015
Media Release: New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

The national student union says a Serco-inspired restructuring is not the way to go as Unitec’s roll drops thanks in-part to an explosion of private training establishments in Auckland.

NZUSA President Rory McCourt says the union has some sympathy for public institutions like Unitec which have had their student numbers eaten away by a growing number of PTEs which generally have lower overheads per student and fewer student services.

“The reality is that PTEs are cherry picking profitable courses while our local polytechs are left to clean up the mess. Now we see that 300 jobs will go and students will suffer. I’m disappointed, but not surprised given the Government’s let PTEs completely off the leash.”

But Mr McCourt had no sympathy for the way Unitec was dealing with the situation in its proposal to contract out 60 staff to global services firm Concentrix.

“These are essential staff in admissions, enrolment and information support. To privatise these services is completely the wrong approach and the students will suffer. Students rely on consistent, persistent relationships with staff members to build trust with an educational institution. You wouldn’t want your local school to give the receptionists’ contract to a company like Serco – so why privatise similar services in our local polytechs?”

McCourt says it would be reckless to hand important staff-student relationships over to the private sector in such a risky experiment, especially given the restructuring will not deal with the drivers of Unitec's strife.

McCourt says he's skeptical the proposal will improve outcomes for students, and that it was clearly in response to falling student numbers and government funding.

“Steven Joyce needs to front up on what is happening to our polytechs. The regionals are merging and the metros are restructuring – not to improve education, but to survive. Unless we see a change from the top things are set to get much worse.”

McCourt says the Unitec proposal shows how far market values have entered tertiary education, and predicted there would be backlash given the growing mood against companies like Serco.

“New Zealand needs to have a proper conversation about the tsunami of privatisation of what were once public services, particularly in education. Do we think it’s okay for companies to make a profit from education, be they PTEs or multinational services firms? Is this the right thing to do for our learners and with our state dollars? I think taxpayers are growing tired of the Serco approach.”


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