Vocational surgery needed
Our vocational educational system is in desperate need of surgery. Four of New Zealand’s 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) are effectively under government receivership, and others are reportedly on the brink.
“It’s time to reset the whole system and fundamentally rethink the way we view vocational education and training, and how it’s delivered,” said Minister of Education Chris Hipkins. “What we are proposing is ambitious, but it needs to be. We cannot continue to tweak the system knowing that the model is fundamentally broken.”
Something must be done, but the government is going too far. Their solution: centralise everything. Combine all ITPs and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) into one gigantic vocational system. The sector has a mere six weeks to provide feedback on the proposal, hardly fair on those involved.
Few would argue against the need for change, but rather than this extreme solution, perhaps we could look at those who are thriving in the current system and create a framework to promote more of that. There are some shining lights, like Otago Polytechnic and the Southern Institute of Technology: “well-governed, wellmanaged, and living sustainably within their means while still delivering highquality and relevant education,” as one report put it. They were promised that well-performing institutions wouldn’t be impacted, but this seems rather optimistic given the severity of the changes.
The Tertiary Educational Commission’s comprehensive review acknowledged the benefits of a simplified and coherent system, but also the risks, namely the “creation of a giant, unwieldy monopoly with no real competition and poor responsiveness to the demand-side; and the risk of catastrophic highstakes system failure if the entity did not deliver quality.” They list South Australia’s experience as a “cautionary tale;” their centralised system lost quality assurance accreditation, leaving the state temporarily without courses in plumbing, construction, commercial cooking, hairdressing and aged care.
Instead, the Commission recommended Tu¯ Kahikatea, the Strength of a Network, a centralised entity that would help coordinate and support the ITPs as a network, but also preserve the unique contributions each can make. The minister considered this idea “convoluted with a number of moving parts, and many previously untried arrangements.” Where he sees convolution, I see local variations and responses to local needs. And while there are some untried aspects of Tu¯ Kahikatea, at least if they fail, the whole system won’t go down with them.
It is likely that the government’s solution “will provide stability and certainty into the future,” but it is unlikely to be dynamic and responsive to the changes in the economy and nuances of local industries and regions. Sometimes serious surgery is required, but some clinical precision with our vocational institutes will go a long way.
" . . . rather than this extreme solution, perhaps we could look at those who are thriving in the current system and create a framework to promote more of that."