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Tag: ITP’s

Talk-ED: To ITP or not to ITP

Stuart Middleton
14 November 2011

I have been intrigued recently at the emergence of a theme in the discussion of TAFE in Australia over recent months. From my perspective it seems to centre on one thing – a quest for esteem for those engaged in TAFE activities.

What is a little troubling is that the esteem is sought in trying to claim the markers of that, that distinguish the university system. Parity in research, degrees, remuneration are all sought in order to achieve a parity of esteem between the TAFE sector, in New Zealand the ITP sector, and the university sector.

Well, of course, trying to pursue this pathway will not work and the time spent would be better directed to the yellow brick road or perhaps the quest for the rosy glow of Shangri La.

The real esteem in ITP education and training is in its intrinsic value and this is enhanced by defining a space within tertiary education for itself, a space that can only be filled by the trades and the kinds of applied education that marks career / trades / vocational education.

Then again, the university sector has become blatantly vocational so that the degree end of ITP sector inevitably has a superficial look of the university about it. A closer and more subtle inspection should show that the ITP sector degrees are not like university degrees at all. But is there a suspicion that they try to be?

In New Zealand we have been working away for the past ten years or so in an effort to develop a “network of provision”, a tertiary sector that is characterised by a set of different kinds of tertiary institution sthat makes a unique contribution to the portfolio of postsecondary education and training.

The ITP sector in New Zealand is largely the domain of Polytechnics and Private Training Providers (PTEs).  But the singing sirens of Lorelei have distracted these providers from time to time. Those sirens have come in the guise of degree teaching and research and just like those women of the Rhine, have lured the providers onto the rocks. The search for parity of esteem is not simply a desire to be the same and where technical and career providers have attempted to pursue a sameness with universities, the result has been rather threatening to the mission of the very provision of the kinds of education and training that mark the ITP providers as being different from the university.

Let’s face it. Those of us who work in the career and technical education end of the system work in the kitchen rather than the lounge. We teach people to do the dirty work. We teach them to do the jobs that you do standing up rather than sitting down. Yes, it is the blue collar end of education. That is why it is so important.

Without the work of the ITP sector, many industries and a good part of the economy would simply grind to a halt as machines and processes broke down, as record keeping and procurement failed to keep pace with the organisation, as supervision and on-the-shop-floor guidance disappeared. It is this middle-earth of business and industry that the graduates of ITP sector inhabit (or should that be inhobitt?).

Of course there are some aspects of government activity that threaten the place of vocational education and training. Those countries that set targets for the proportion of the population that should have degrees are simply creating another form of distraction. There is no persuasive evidence that more people with degrees are needed across the board. The real shortages are in the middle level of qualifications, the technicians, shop-floor supervisors and so on.

This means that ITP sector would be helping itself by urging that qualifications such as the Diploma and why not the Associate Degree, be given greater status. Small the gate might be to get into university but wide open it is for ITP sector. This open access characteristic of ITP sector is one of its strongest features as through this it can help people to become a productive contributor to the community.

The key confusion in the matter calls for a differential approach between university and ITP provision is the extent to which universities have become vocational, largely for marketing reasons. Where once graduate diploma topped students up after the completion of a general degree they have significantly been side-lined by specialist undergraduate degrees.

This means that “vocational” has become not so useful in defining ITP SECTOR work. I like the notion of “linked learning” – learning that links down into the previous educational experiences and successes of students and links upwards and outwards to the world of work. This makes those of us in the ITP sector us in comparison to our university colleagues neither better nor worse, neither more important nor less important and neither more worthy nor less deserving of funding.

We are both blessed with the opportunities that our work opens to us to make a difference.



Paving the way for skill development

Stuart Middleton
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.

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