Financial challenges burn our polytechnics

Firefighting should involve long-term view

Venkat Raman

Many Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) face financial challenges but these challenges also present an opportunity, Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) Chief Executive Tim Fowler has said.

“ITP domestic student numbers have declined by nearly a third in the last decade, driven by demographic, economic and other changes. As a result, some ITPs face immediate and pressing challenges to their financial viability and sustainability. For others the challenges are less imminent but getting closer,” he said.

Long-Term view needed

Mr Fowler said that while these financial issues are the sector’s burning platform, the opportunity is to take a long-term view of where the sector needs to go.

“The need for change is as much about the nature and quality of delivery as it is about ITP finances – the two are intertwined. This is not about solving a short-term financial problem – it’s about finding a sustainable growth path for ITPs to help them deliver regionally-based vocational training and education that addresses students’ and employers’ needs in a rapidly changing world,” he said.

The new Government has indicated that it wants the tertiary sector to be more flexible and responsive, to better meet New Zealand’s changing labour market.

Roadmap 2020

The TEC has established the ITP Roadmap 2020 project to take the lead on engaging collaboratively with ITPs, and the broader community, to explore and test different options for change.

“We have appointed a project team and will shortly begin workshops with stakeholders around New Zealand,” Mr Fowler said.

The TEC will work with the governance and management levels of ITPs as well as other parties including employers, iwi, staff, unions, local government and learners to identify the best path forward for ITPs. Engagement will have a strong regional focus to ensure these unique perspectives are also taken into consideration

“Everything is on the table here except the status quo. We are excited and ambitious about the future of the sector and are looking forward to co-creating solutions for structural change that will deliver better outcomes for New Zealand.

“We know that time is of the essence, so our aim is to provide recommendations to the Minister of Education in the next six months,” he said.

Structural changes

Mr Fowler said that the ITP sector has already undergone a lot of structural change over the last two decades, merging or forming partnerships to improve their quality and efficiency.

New Zealand had 25 ITPs in 1990, and now has 16 and hence change is normal, and when done well, and with right motivation and focus, can drive better outcomes for everyone.

“We need to be clear about the unique value ITPs offer New Zealand, and how they can adapt to a changing environment to deliver that value. By working together, we can build a sustainable future for the sector while also meeting the needs of current and future learners,” Mr Fowler said.

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Photo Caption:

Tim Fowler

(Picture Courtesy: Tertiary Education Commission)

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