'Exciting' times for polytechnics

Rapid technological and educational changes mean the Otago Polytechnic of the future will face "fierce" international competition as well as enjoying exciting opportunities.

That vision was outlined by Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker during a brainstorming discussion at yesterday's Otago Polytechnic Council meeting.

The discussion was sparked by the tabling of a two-page "scenario for polytechnics in New Zealand" in 2021, and by lively remarks by Mr Ker about likely changes ahead.

Such changes were "the most exciting thing" he could be discussing, Mr Ker added in a later interview.

The 2021 scenario included a more than 50% cut in the number of polytechnics - down to eight, including only two in the South Island.

However, it was also envisaged that in 2021 a national polytechnic would be building a campus for 2000 equivalent full-time students in South Dunedin, and providing full fee tuition scholarships to half those students.

Tertiary sector competition would be "fierce", especially from polytechnics in Asia, which would be marketing "aggressively" to New Zealand students and offering study abroad experiences.

Technology was making learning, including via internet, "much more accessible and flexible", the council heard.

Mr Ker said internet-linked self-education, often using free, open-access course materials, was already a rapidly growing international trend.

Some polytechnic council members said trends towards online learning and self-education meant some potential students could choose to study at home, rather than travelling to Dunedin.

One member, Dr Malcolm Macpherson, said the Dunedin City Council would be well advised to pay close attention to the likely major changes.

Because education was linked to fast-changing internet technology, changes affecting Dunedin's tertiary education industry could happen quite quickly and could prove economically significant, Dr Macpherson said in an interview.

Mr Ker said the 2021 planning had begun at a polytechnic managers' retreat in Cromwell late last year.

He had since realised that some educational trends, including using more free internet-based resources, would start taking effect much earlier, within five years. Those trends did not necessarily mean fewer people would come to Dunedin to study, but they might come for different reasons.

Such reasons could include gaining high-quality overseas educational opportunities and valuable work experience, instead of receiving guidance in reading text books, he said.

• Twenty-five students from the polytechnic's bachelor of occupational therapy programme graduated in Hamilton last week - the first Otago occupational therapy students to graduate there through an academic collaboration with the Waikato Institute of Technology.


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