Polytech ex-boss pleased with U-turn

Otago Polytechnic. Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The former chief of the Otago Polytechnic is welcoming the end of what he calls the "unfortunate experiment" of Te Pūkenga.

Tertiary Education Minister Penny Simmonds officially announced yesterday 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.

Consultation on which eight to 10 institutions would remain needed to start, she said.

Former Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker was not surprised.

"Essentially, this is what the National Party had campaigned on.

"I support what the minister is proposing."

The merger of the polytechnics and ITOs had not delivered on former prime minister and education minister Chris Hipkins’ promise to create a better vocational education system, Mr Ker said.

"He chose to ride roughshod over the advice of the Tertiary Education Commission and his own advisers.

"The outcomes have been worse. I am pleased to see the end of this unfortunate experiment."

Phil Ker
Phil Ker
Asked whether he would like to have a role in overseeing the disestablishment of Te Pūkenga, Mr Ker said he would be "happy to provide advice" if asked.

"I will send a supportive note to the minister. I think she is doing the right thing."

In the South Island, it was likely that Ara, Southern Institute of Technology and Otago Polytechnic would become autonomous again, he said.

"The minister has indicated that any central office would be lean and mean.

"I suspect part of what will unfold will be looking at which institutes will be viable."

There needed to be a serious overhaul of the funding model, with a focus on need as well as student numbers, he said.

Te Pūkenga chief executive Peter Winder has said 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.

Mr Ker said there had already been a "considerable loss of experience" at the various polytechnics and ITOs as a result of the constant restructuring.

"It is unfortunate a level of anxiety will continue for staff.

"But it is never too late to turn back. We were staring down the barrel of disaster under Te Pūkenga."

The announcement was "bittersweet" because it came in the context of a "very tight" government budget, he said.