Otago Polytech upbeat; Southland not

Otago Polytechnic. Photo: ODT files
Otago Polytechnic. Photo: ODT FILES
Otago Polytechnic is defending its optimistic view of a Government reform of vocational education - as the Southern Institute of Technology takes legal advice on the contentious plan.

The polytechnic is hopeful a transitional parent-subsidiary arrangement with the country's institutes of technology and polytechnics, to be introduced for two years, will become permanent for high-performing institutions.

Information released on Thursday indicated the stop-gap step would be introduced in April 2020 and would last two years - unless Education Minister Chris Hipkins decided to extend it for some, or all, institutions on the advice of the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.

National Party politicians and employers' organisations have slammed the plan, and Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt has vowed to fight it.

However polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker said he had no "background agenda" in taking a more positive view.

"I'm an optimist. We've got to remember that down the track, the decision-making sort of shifts a little bit. It's not strictly speaking a political decision [any more]."

Although the polytechnic has pushed hard to retain its autonomy, in its submission to the Government the polytechnic recommended there be a system head office to be responsible for planning, co-ordinating and oversight of the system as a whole - and a number of regional centres responsible for meeting the training and education needs of learners and employers in their region.

Mr Ker said the plan as it stood had removed his main objections to centralisation - but if they came back, Otago was prepared to take a "very strong" stance.

Mr Ker would expect the subsidiary set up in 2020 to be a completely separate legal entity, hopefully with its own day-to-day budget and its own board drawn from the Otago region - however the powers of the parent organisation, the NZIST, had yet to be enshrined in legislation.

The polytechnic would be putting forward its own ideas to the ministry for what the subsidiary arrangement would look like.

In Southland, Sir Tim said yesterday Invercargill City Council had met SIT chief executive Penny Simmonds.

They decided to seek lawyers' advice and contact other polytechs in the same situation to drawn a plan.

Mr Ker said polytechnic council chairwoman Kathy Grant's appointment to the new Establishment Board of the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology was welcome - and he thought she would offer an alternative view around the table, coming from an institution that was successful rather than one that was struggling.

A spokesman from the Otago Mayoral Forum had been actively engaged with the polytechnic and institute of technology sector reforms since they were first announced by Mr Hipkins earlier this year. They said:

"The forum has recognised throughout the process that the sector as a whole is in need of reform, but expressed concern to the minister that these reforms should not come to the detriment of successful Southern institutions."


An attempt to turn them into state controlled enterprises, if not state owned.