Dr Shane Reti: Regional education at risk under Labour-led Government

Opinion 28/06/2019

A recently leaked Cabinet Paper to National has detailed the Government’s reforms to vocational education. And they go a lot further than first thought.

More than that though, these reforms will destroy regional education and apprenticeships.

The Government has talked a big game about being committed to our regions.

The reforms will mean regional polytechnics, like the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT), Otago Polytech, Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) and all the rest, will be renamed as subsidiaries of a newly formed mega polytechnic called the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST). After two years, these subsidiaries will be formally amalgamated into the mega polytechnic.

In their place, a staggering 72 new entities, including NZIST will be created. So instead of leaving these well-performing institutions alone, Education Minister Chris Hipkins is prepared to add further layers of bureaucracy to regional education.

These new entities will be coming at the taxpayers’ expense as well.

The polytechs will be controlled by a head office. They will have their individual cash and community legacy assets ring fenced to a regional level, but will lose control of the decision making around how they use those assets.

All other assets, including buildings and land, will simply be taken away and consolidated.

That’s a slap in the face to successful individual polytechnics who will lose control of the hard fought reserves they have built up.

About 80 per cent of the public submissions are against the idea of one mega polytech.

Even more would likely oppose the change if they had known the cash and community assets grab this new mega polytechnic will take from individual polytechnics.

There would also no longer be out of region provision, for example where a regional polytechnic also has a campus in Auckland or Wellington. These out of region campuses have shown to be a critical way of recruiting learners to the regions, and attracting international students to New Zealand.

The Cabinet paper also details that industry bodies that look after apprentices such as plumbers, builders and electricians will be dissolved over a two year period. At the moment the industry organises placements for apprentices, because they understand the needs of industry and who will be the best fit for them.

That will now be taken from them and given to polytechs who won’t have the resources and skills to manage that.

These reforms will be devastating for high performing polytechs like SIT who will lose control of their destiny and control of community assets. Mr Hipkins is pushing ahead with ideology over what is best for students and regional New Zealand.

National knows that the regions and communities are best placed to assess their needs and deliver for them.

We believe these reforms will be disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships, and the Government must stop pushing ahead with them.

We will return polytechnic assets taken by Labour and give them back to communities. We will return polytechnic decision making back to communities and the regions. We will return apprentices to industry. Mr Hipkins should be addressing the problems where they are and leaving successful institutions alone.

National will fight for regional education.