TEU concern for policy on education

The Tertiary Education Union is worried the incoming government will bring in "disruptive" reform to an already embattled vocational education sector.

With Labour’s defeat in the general election, the future of Te Pūkenga, the country’s largest tertiary education and training provider, hangs in the balance.

Te Pūkenga was created through the merger of the country’s 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics and last month the institution announced its new structure, which will lead to 200 fewer full-time equivalent roles across the national network.

TEU organiser Daniel Benson-Guiu, of Dunedin, said staff had already gone through a lot of upheaval over the past few years.

"While not everyone is happy with the changes that have been made, there is a recognition of the need for on-campus vocational training such as at Otago.

"People have been leaving the institution without being replaced, and good experience has been lost in the wake of the reforms.

"That affects not only the students, but also the wider industries, who might not have access to the graduates they used to."

Mr Benson-Guiu said it had been a "disruptive" time for the tertiary education sector, and he worried the change in government could lead to more of this.

He called for a review of the Tertiary Education Commission’s funding model.

"The current funding scenarios mean that even if there are more students, there is not always the resourcing to support them," he said.

In the past, National tertiary education spokeswoman Penny Simmonds has criticised Te Pūkenga for posting massive deficits and called for devolving some of its operations back to local institutions, or even disestablishing Te Pūkenga.

When the Otago Daily Times asked Ms Simmonds about plans to reform Te Pūkenga, she said the previous Labour Government’s mega polytechnic merger had been "an utter disaster", and there was now a need for better leadership.

"National first has to form a government and appoint ministers. Following that, appointed ministers will meet government department heads and start the process of putting our policies and plans in place," Ms Simmonds said.

Te Pūkenga chief executive Peter Winders said it was a Crown entity and its obligation was to implement government policy.

"We have been given a job to do, as outlined under current policy settings and the minister’s letter of expectations," Mr Winders said.

"If government policy changes under the incoming government, we will respond to that."

Mr Winders said it would look forward to meeting and briefing the incoming minister at the earliest opportunity.