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Vocational Education is no joke!

The first of April each year is a time that is most characterised as the pulling-the-leg time, of large-scale and small-scale deception and tricks and the fabrication of ideas and possibilities that might just be true, then again, on second thoughts it might just be a leg pull.

Last year, on 1 April a significant development in the New Zealand vocational and technical education sector that was too wide-sweeping to be a joke took place – all 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics formed an alliance to operate under a common brand and for all intents and purposes become instantiations of a mega-polytechnic.

There would be no pulling rabbits out of hats although it is rumoured that there Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns in some quarters. There also was the careful tip-toeing around certain words – a*********** and m*****. There was to be no repeat of the frenzy that was triggered in Australia as new universities were created through, shall we say “getting together”? And technical colleges grew in stature under the TAFE banner. A famous description was spawned as a warning about what might happen. To cut a long story short, a commentator in describing the determination to avoid actual m***** told of the story going around “in uppity circles Institution A was spoken as if it were a certain ‘Biblical Character’ for accepting the local college. As we know from Revelations (17:3), that person sat upon a scarlet beast having seven heads and ten horns – not a bad description of the academic structure in many a combined institution.”

 So Pukenga, who we know to be a “skilful, versatile intellectual, skilled” body by dint of its name (which reflects those characteristics) has provided the steady-as-it-goes to reach its first birthday calmly. One cannot help but think that the increases in enrolments was a helpful gift born out of the misery of a pandemic. But calmness is only a state that you reach but not one that you cannot sustains forever.

Change must come. First, key unified and strategic actions must be around provision and increased positive outcomes for priority groups, Maori, Pasifika, Migrants, those who are still being left behind. Secondly there is also an opportunity to increase the involvement of Pukenga institutions in Secondary / Tertiary programmes – networks are in place at a national scale, the success and progression levels of school students to polytechnics from these programmes cannot be ignored.

But thirdly and most of all, Pukenga must persuade the institutions as to the need for recognisable and nation-wide marketing, the nation-wide availability of the key programmes that mark out the polytechnic territory and above all, one system for enrolment that is smooth quick and easy.

Finally I look forward to cracking open a Pukenga Easter egg next year, 2022 and see a VET system that is characterised by managed pathways to employment that are seamlessness in their programme delivery and students zipping over the transitions that remain potholes in the road to success.

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