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The education and workforce select committee is hearing submissions on the Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Bill, a controversial revamp of the polytechnic sector which could result in regional institutions being grouped together in a national organisation.
Southern Institute of Technology chairman Peter Heenan told subcommittee chairwoman Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran and New Zealand First Central Otago list MP Mark Patterson it was essential people who lived in and understood regions and their learning needs should take at least 75% of seats on the proposed "regional subsidiary'' boards.
"We think that the NZ Institute of Skills and Technology will be overly bureaucratic, it will be slow to adapt, it will lack innovation and it will not give regions autonomy to the degree that they need.''
SIT chief executive Penny Simmonds said initiatives such as zero fees and accommodation bursaries, which had driven the success of the institution, would have been unlikely under the Government's scheme.
"There is no comfort that they could happen again in the future, that that sort of innovation could continue, that if we were being run by a central body in two and a-half years' time, that they would have any ability to even think of those sort of innovations for a region.''
Ms Simmonds was also concerned the cash reserves and future surpluses of successful polytechnics like SIT could be used to support other schools or nationwide expenses, rather than being spent where the money had been generated.
"We believe there is insufficient protection for surpluses and reserves that are sitting there to be maintained to be used in the regions; at the moment the decision-making on that is by the central board rather than the subsidiary board.''
Otago Polytechnic echoed many of its sister institution's concerns.
Deputy chief executive Chris Morland said the Dunedin wildlife hospital was an example of Otago Polytechnic innovation which probably would not happen if the Government's's proposal for national "centres of vocational excellence'' was introduced.
"That is a piece of work which was picked up in this local community and driven forward for a national outcome and I couldn't see that happening through a Cove. It would be too small.''
Fellow deputy chief executive Megan Gibbons said Otago feared in future it would have to go through a reporting mechanism to a national body before making a decision.
"Often the things we do at Otago Polytechnic, we think rapidly and we move rapidly, give it a go, and see if it works or not ... the potential loss of that agility, that nimbleness, is the concern for us.''