New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.35, 11 September 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.
The Government in New Zealand, like its counterparts in the UK, Australia, the United States of America and Canada, seems to realise that powering up education to get behind any economic recovery that will be sustainable relies on their being able to stimulate the participation in and appropriateness of technical education. Each of these governments share a view that a sustained economic recovery cannot take place without a skilled and well-trained work force.
Little wonder then that the technical education sectors are coming under both the microscope and the blowtorch in each of these countries. This has seen a reversal internationally of the relative underfunding of Career Technical Education (CTE), as it is now commonly called, and with that a much closer scrutiny is being paid to its organisation and delivery.
In New Zealand we have seen this trend.
In developing a policy setting for senior secondary and post-secondary education that highlights skills, trade academies and the Youth Guarantee policy, the Government has signalled clearly that it too expects to see greater emphasis in this area.
The first shots have been fired with a wholesale review of the nature of governance in the ITP sector. Moving away from large Councils based on a representative model, the recent Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill calls for slimmer councils of eight members that reflect the skill sets required for governance in this critical sector. Clearly the financial performance of some of the institutions in the ITP sector is seen largely as a failure in governance. Failure in the wider financial sector, in national sports bodies, in local government and in many not-for-profits is often a failure of governance so there is nothing particularly special about the ITP’s in this regard.
But addressing this issue in New Zealand is unusual and the Government has acted in a decisive manner.
Sitting alongside this is the call for ITP’s to move out of Level 1-3 programmes. The Government is stuck between the horns of a dilemma (this might be code for two views around the cabinet table with Treasury providing impact from the bench). If significantly increased numbers of people are to access Level 4+ programmes then they will have to start below that level and be stair-cased through. There is a capacity among PTE’s for provision at Levels 1-3 but not on the scale required in some communities to get the numbers into Level 4 + that are required and where that capacity exists it is in some institutions already working as a pipeline into Level 4+.
So quite simply, some slack has to be cut for the ITP sector in this area. Two other factors should also be taken into account – the extend of Level 1-3 activity in the university sector and the policy settings aimed at getting our young people moving.
A little over 2% of enrolments at universities are at Levels 1-3 (this does not include the arrangements that exist for such activity for universities to take place in associated PTE’s and other such arrangements). But the range is wide – 10% of activity at one university is at these levels while at some there is none. A differentiated tertiary sector really needs to sort this out.
The other aspect is the excellent Youth Guarantee policy – the opportunity for 16-17 year olds to continue their education outside the setting of a secondary school but retain the free education entitlement that applies to secondary school students up to the age of 19 years. The first iteration of this will see recipients of funding to Level 1-3 programmes. Eventually this will have to be addressed if the policy is to make a real impact in terms of numbers. The reason why pathways outside of the school system are needed in the 15 – 19 year age range is that some of the students in the schools do not make progress at Levels 1-3. It is logical therefore that the alternative pathways offered to them include a good set of options at Levels 1-3.
On the one hand ITP’s are being encouraged to restrict their Level 1-3 offerings at the very time where opportunities in ITP’s at this level will be very important to the skills thrust of the Government.
Finally there is the division of the ITPO sector into the six “metropolitan ITP’s” and the “regional ITP’s.” This 6/14 self-imposed split is based on the premise that there are in New Zealand two kinds of ITP that have different needs and which therefore require different responses in terms of funding, management and governance. No doubt this will all play out over time.
But perhaps there is a hint in the Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill that allows for a single Council to have responsibility for more than one ITP that the TEAC suggestion of hub and spoke models for tertiary is about to be revived in the ITP sector. And will that tie in with the Metro / Regional distinctions? And will that tie in with the rationalisation of Level 1-3? I think that is trying to stretch what is happening into a conspiracy and a little too far!
The key action is the interface between the K-12 education system (ECE / Primary / Secondary) and postsecondary. For mn60% of students the system is functioning well and existing provision is quite adequate.
But if the country has aspirations to develop the skilled workforce on which the economic recovery will rely if it is to be sustained, then attention cannot be allowed to stray from:
- the provision of early childhood education throughout all our communities;
- the issues of those young people who are disengaging from schooling;
- the qualification levels of the bottom 40% of school leavers;
- the provision of seamless pathways into whatever should be next for those students;
- the acquisition of meaningful industry-recognised qualifications.
That is why the ITP sector is crucial and has to be working well. And none of this is to say that there are no issues in the rest of the tertiary sector but the Government has identified the right plce at which to make a start.