Learning opportunities cannot be lost again

The Otago Polytechnic is to become part of a single crown entity. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The Otago Polytechnic is to become part of a single crown entity. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The Government needs to provide funding to ensure the reform of New Zealand’s polytechnics goes smoothly, writes Tertiary Education Union branch president Craig West.

Today, members of Tertiary Education Union/Te Hautu Kahurangi will gather for a day of action to get our country’s polytechnics back into the black.

Together we will be pushing for the Government to step up in its support of the planned vocational education and training system and for investment in the transformation and stabilisation of New Zealand’s struggling polytechnics.

On April 1, the new institute at the heart of the unified vocational education system will bring all 16 polytechnics under a single crown entity. This is the largest reform of the tertiary education system in a generation, actually the largest public sector change in 20 years. So it’s big.

But in order to truly fulfil this promise of a unified system that provides opportunities for all learners, the Government must take action and provide improved funding to our polytechnics during this period of transition.

Over the past decade, New Zealand’s polytechnics have been starved of funding, and the result has been a slashing and burning of educational opportunities that truly provided the kind of transformational learning that is so important to the current Government, and the public’s vision of education.

Community education programmes offered by polytechnics up and down the country that provided second-chance learners opportunities to get back into the classroom and improve their lives, and that of their whanau and communities, have been severely impacted over the last decade by a lack of funding and a competitive model that deemed many such programmes ‘‘unviable’’.

Many of these programmes, that once gave so many a renewed passion and confidence in learning, and provided them with new skills and opportunities, were lost.

Here in Dunedin, we lost three of four such community education programmes once offered through the Otago Polytechnic/Te Kura Matatini ki te Otago. The one remaining programme, based in Mosgiel, continues to change lives and communities, but Dunedin can not be left to lose the opportunities that remain, and all that the programme means for learners wanting to improve their futures.

It is the communities where these programmes are lost that must pick up the pieces, but we all lose when learners are denied the opportunity to improve their lives.

Even as we enter this transition that promises so much, our polytechnics are still under threat. Our staff are still losing jobs, our courses are still being cut, our learners and communities are still uncertain about the future of the polytechnic in their region and uncertain of the opportunities providers will offer.

The new unified vocational education system will once again provide opportunities to cater for the needs of all learners. The charter of the new unified institution promises much. It promises accessibility.

For those of us working in polytechnics this means our regional polytechnics will once again have the chance to be able to run those courses that provide life-changing opportunities and transform communities, without relying on large student numbers within those classes to make it work.

If there is a need within the community then our polytechnics will once again be able to address it, because by 2023, we will be funded with the ability to do that.

We in the sector have been promised in good faith that an improvement in funding to address these issues will come in time. But after so many years of underfunding, what our polytechnics need now more than ever is stability.

Stability to ensure that cuts to staff and educational opportunities will not continue while we wait for 2023.

Funding for stability now will not only allay fears, and stabilise our vocational education and training sector, it will also provide some measure of security for polytechnics, the majority of which have struggled with underfunding for years and are barely managing to hang on.

This can only be achieved by funding our polytechnics now so that they can weather this period of transition.

 - A Day of Action for better funding will be held today, at the Otago Polytechnic in The Hub, starting at noon.

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