New Zealand has been attracting skilled workers and students from various countries in recent years.
The Private education sector is now a booming industry with new Private Training Establishments (PTEs) popping up every other day, offering popular courses such as Cookery, Hospitality, IT and Horticulture, to name a few.
Have you ever wondered why these institutions do not offer degree courses in health, education or trade? The simple answer is that lower level qualifications are in much higher demand and far more attractive to international students.
Having being in the private post-secondary sector for almost 15 years, I have seen the establishment of a few great PTEs and some not so great.
What attracts investors and others to this industry?
Money of course!
Undoubtedly, many PTE owners have a passion for education, a sense of giving and enriching our economy with a skilled workforce and lifting the aspirations of specific communities. The quality of the courses they offer, their dedication for excellence and their outcomes are factors that determine the Government’s decision to invest faith and funds in the PTEs.
The tertiary education strategy clearly maps out the priority areas for PTEs to contribute and assist the public sector and have measurable outcomes to prove that the taxpayers’ money is wisely used.
If the above appears complicated, it is so. Challenges and problems are associated with the establishment and operations of PTEs.
We have to understand the plight of a large number of domestic learners who suffer from problems of low or no self-esteem, low levels of literacy and numeracy skills and psychological barriers. Many of them also counter social, domestic and personal problems.
But we recognise the fact that they are eager to study, improve their skills and personal wellbeing.
The success achieved in educating them and seeing them prosper in their life and career is the greatest reward that we receive as owners, managers and teachers in PTEs.
International students also play a vital role in the development of skills and enhancement of human capital, as many of them intend to settle in New Zealand and foster their careers.
I have seen many doing well over the years as top managers in multinationals, as successful entrepreneurs and as self-employed people. They are grateful to the country and its PTEs for affording them opportunities to grow.
It is however a pity that some PTEs and unscrupulous people exploit international students for their personal gains. The converse may also be true but in a majority of cases, students become victims.
The New Year is already promising great lows in morals and healthy practices, with some establishments charging rock bottom prices to attract international students, and withholding their qualification until they pay more money. Many victims seek the help of other PTEs to resolve their issues.
We are watching some PTEs ignoring NZQA (New Zealand Qualifications Authority) approved entry criteria for many qualifications to lure students into their school. We are also watching many students taking the plunge to save time and money, without realising that they would be the victims eventually.
When students attend courses without fulfilling the entry criteria, one or all of the following could happen; they will not understand the course they are pursuing, they will not complete the course requirements (unless they pay to pass); they will not gain the skills or knowledge they paid for; and most importantly, they will not be able to contribute to the progress of New Zealand.
I am hopeful that a new NZQA initiative of a mandatory review (called, ‘Targeted Review) of the qualifications offered by PTEs and External Evaluation Reviews would cleanse the sector of unhealthy and unwanted practices that are detrimental not only to the student community but also to the image of New Zealand as a great destination for education.
I would like to see the same criteria that are applied to all Government-funded PTEs with measurement of completion of courses and qualifications, student progression and labour market outcomes to other non-funded PTEs.
These should the benchmark for the PTE sector.
Feroz Ali is Chief Executive of the New Zealand Career College (NZCC), which has four campuses in Central Auckland, Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere.