Autonomy to return: minister

Penny Simmonds. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT
Penny Simmonds. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT
The Tertiary Education Minister expects Otago Polytechnic to be returned to its former autonomy by the end of next year.

Penny Simmonds’ comments come after previously announcing that Te Pukenga, the mega-polytechnic which swallowed up the country’s 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics and nine industry training organisations (ITOs), including Otago Polytechnic, would be replaced with a model involving between eight and 10 individual institutions.

Asked whether Otago Polytechnic, Ara Institute, and Southern Institute of Technology should be returned to more or less their previous autonomy, Ms Simmonds said "I would expect that institutions such as these three should be sustainable".

"Taking into account the size of some institutions which is impacting on financial viability and geographic co-locations, I expect that eight to 10 institutions may be about the right number — but this would be informed by consultation with individual communities and should not result in gaps in delivery."

The changes should be complete by the end of 2024, she said.

"I want to ensure that staff and communities are consulted through the process and that we give certainty within as short a space of time as possible.

"I’m very aware of the anxiety that the past four years have created for staff and I am determined to move quickly for communities and staff to give certainty going forward."

Ms Simmonds had asked officials to revisit the unified funding scheme for polytechnics with a view to having Student Achievement Component (SAC) funding from 2025 onwards reinstated.

She also expected the new institutions would all have their own chief executives.

Business South chief executive Mike Collins was optimistic about the news.

"We think having more local autonomy will make things easier for businesses to make better connections with the polytechnics in terms of the skills we need to fill.

"Especially a polytechnic that was as well regarded as Otago, the businesses had a real relationship with it."

Mr Collins said the reception he had received from international organisations was that they did not really understand Te Pukenga.

"Many of those organisations had years and years of dealing with Otago Polytechnic; they could relate to it.

"It had some sense of identity."

There was however, "some sense" in centralising some administration and course development roles to avoid over-duplication among the polytechnics, he said.

But Tertiary Education Union organiser Daniel Benson-Guiu said staff were "tired of being a political football".

"Staff have been through enough change in the past few years.

"They just want the resources to do their work."

Mr Benson-Guiu said the constant upheaval reduced the prospects of students coming through the vocational educational sector.

"We’ve all wanted to go back to something, but things have changed.

"What really needs to be addressed is the funding model."