Axe starts to fall on Te Pūkenga

The fate of mega-polytechnic Te Pūkenga is sealed, the new Tertiary Education Minister having ordered leadership to look towards a more regional model.

Te Pūkenga was created through the merger of the country’s 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics, and nine industry training organisations (ITOs) in 2020, and since then it has gone through several restructures.

However, Tertiary Education Minister Penny Simmonds has sent a letter to Te Pūkenga chairman Murray Strong telling him to call off any further restructuring for the time being and prepare for a more regional-based model.

"It is no longer the government’s priority to have a centralised organisation for delivering vocational organisation and training.

Tertiary Education Minister Penny Simmonds. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Tertiary Education Minister Penny Simmonds. PHOTO: ODT FILES
"While Cabinet decisions are still to be made on the disestablishment process ... my intention is to establish regionally based, individual institutions."

Ms Simmonds was chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology from 1997 to 2020.

"Te Pūkenga should not be making any decisions that would make its disestablishment more difficult or more costly.

"I expect Te Pūkenga to consider how much decision-making and authority can be given to its business divisions to support the needs of the respective regions."

There will be significant uncertainty across the network given the government’s announcement to disestablish Te Pūkenga, the letter said.

"I expect Te Pūkenga to focus on supporting staff, learners and stakeholders through this transition period as much as possible ... There will be considerable work that Te Pūkenga needs to undertake."

Ms Simmonds has asked Te Pūkenga’s council to respond to the letter with an appropriate work plan by next Friday.

The moves have upset the Tertiary Education Union, which feels Te Pūkenga staff have already undergone much upheaval during the past five years of vocational education reform.

"After years of working for struggling regional polytechnics that constantly cut courses and provision, they transferred to Te Pūkenga which for better or worse has led to enormous restructuring of the entire sector," TEU national secretary Sandra Grey said.

"Now the new government wants to abandon the hundreds of millions of dollars of work that has been done with no plan for what comes next.”

Ms Grey said the new structure could feature up to 16 new chief executives and supporting functions, "which we estimate will cost taxpayers over $63million in itself".

"Then there is the enormous cost this will continue to have due to staff and students who are already voting with their feet".

Te Pūkenga chief executive Peter Winder told RNZ yesterday the institute was considering what the change of direction meant for recently hired staff and those due to be made redundant next year and this month.