'Fruitful territory' to explore, Ker says

Otago Polytechnic. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Otago Polytechnic. Photo: Peter McIntosh

Government proposals to reform the polytechnic sector should not come at the cost of high-performing schools such as Otago Polytechnic, its chief executive Phil Ker says.

Yesterday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins released a six month programme, the "Institutes of Technology and Polytechnic roadmap 2020".

The programme, running alongside an ongoing review of the sector and the planned education summit in May, intended to explore ways training institutions could operate strategically and within a national system, Mr Hipkins said.

"It's about making sure the sector is agile and able to respond to the changing patterns of demand and the changing needs of learners."

Some of Mr Hipkins proposals, such as streamlining costs across the sector, were sensible, Mr Ker said.

That was only one issue facing polytechnics though.

"The answer contains changing the funding system ... Funding is a part of the problem, and it's a major part of the problem," Mr Ker said.

"It does not involve putting more funding in than is currently being spent, it's about spending that money differently."

He urged the Government not to adopt a "one size fits all" approach to funding, as all polytechnics faced different issues from each other.

"There are some institutions which are working well and have sound finances, and Otago Polytechnic is one of those institutions," Mr Ker said.

"It is a bit hard to be caught up in a restructuring built around things that have been going wrong in someone else's backyard, and I have a concern we might be caught up in a restructuring which ends up being detrimental to Otago Polytechnic and Otago as a region.

"Hopefully, the Government recognises that not everyone needs repairing."

Mr Ker said as independent operations each polytechnic was trying to meet generic needs, and there was "fruitful territory" to explore regarding sharing some costs nationally.

"The problem is that no-one has done any homework," Mr Ker said.

"We just don't know, for example, what it would cost to have all the polytechnics on the same IT system.

"It sounds intuitively like a good idea, but these kind of systems are expensive, particularly to migrate across to.

"There's probably something in there. We don't know if it's cost effective, but it's fair enough to do our homework and I'm supportive of doing that."

However, streamlining costs did not require a wholesale restructuring of the sector, he said.

"If we do end up exploring a lot more collaborative stuff, I'm very relaxed because it allows the wider review to unfold and nothing gets pre-empted."

A Cabinet paper released by Mr Hipkins said he hoped to report back to Cabinet with proposals by September at the earliest, but no later than December.

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