24 Feb 2017

Taranaki polytech gets fail grade

6:47 pm on 24 February 2017

Taranaki's largest tertiary education provider has received a fail grade in its latest New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) report card.

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki.

Course completion rates at Taranaki's Western Institute of Technology dropped from 83 to 70 percent between 2012 and 2015. For Māori it dropped from 85 to 57 percent. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

After a comprehensive review of the Western Institute of Technology, NZQA said it had lost confidence in the quality of education at the polytech and its internal quality-assurance controls.

NZQA downgraded the institute from a category one provider to category three, making it the lowest rated public tertiary education provider in the county.

A category three provider can be required to partner with another institute to ensure courses are run correctly.

The polytech received $14 million in Tertiary Education Commission funding in 2015. The downgrade could affect its ability to apply for contestable funding.

At its last review in 2012, NZQA said it was "confident" in the institute's educational performance and quality assurance controls.

The latest report found course completion rates had since dropped from 83 percent to 70 percent in 2015. For Māori it dropped from 85 to 57 percent.

Chairman Robin Brockie said the Institute council was disappointed with the report's findings, but it was not unexpected.

Barbara George

Western Institute of Technology chief executive Barbara George says she has no plans to resign over the critical review. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He blamed the poor review on problems with its Māori Performing Arts programmes, revealed in 2014. Hundreds of qualifications were cancelled and the institute was ordered to repay $4 million in government funding because of the issues.

"I'm not shying away from the review - it points to some areas where we need to make improvements and also acknowledges that we've already begun to implement the changes needed to ensure excellent outcomes for students, employers and the Taranaki community."

The External Evaluation and Review for August 2012 to September 2016, acknowledged the institute was in a renewal period, but identified numerous problems.

They included it effectively not having an academic director for several years, plummeting Māori success rates, poor data collection and analysis, and evidence of high workloads and stress amongst its teaching staff.

"There has been a lack of academic and pedagogical leadership. The Western Institute has only recently engaged an academic director. It has not had anyone in this position or equivalent for several years," the report said.

The institute's last academic director was made redundant in 2014. The report said the lack of academic leadership and comprehensive monitoring systems had affected its understanding of student achievement.

"Course completion rates at the institute are declining overall ... from 83 percent for all learners in 2012 to 70 percent in 2015.

"For Māori, course compilations have dropped from 85 percent to 57 percent over the same period."

Western Institute of Technology council chairman Robin Brockie says the polytech is already implementing NZQA's recommendations for improvement.

Western Institute of Technology council chairman Robin Brockie says the polytech is already implementing NZQA's recommendations for improvement. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The report said there was effectively no Māori strategy and a widening gap between Māori and non-Māori achievement, but that senior management and the institute's council did not appear to be doing much to tackle the problem.

"There is little evidence of analysis of achievement at the executive or governance level. For example, when the institute did not meet its course completion targets for priority learners in 2015, the analysis of why this occurred and targeted initiatives for improvement were not evident."

The review suggested the polytech dropped an internship from its cookery programme to appeal to international students interested in gaining New Zealand residency.

"The Western Institute of Technology appears to be targeting residency in some areas such as cookery. It is partly addressing the associated risks by appointing an employment manager to help students/graduates find jobs.

"On the other hand, dropping of the internship may also provide a risk."

NZQA found staff were highly motivated and contributed to educational achievement.

"However, workloads are stretched and the evaluators heard that faculty leaders were having to be 'all things to all people'."

The review made eight recommendations for the institute to follow, ranging from further developing its governance, management and leadership capability to developing more consistent collection and analysis of data to improve internal quality assurance processes.

Mr Brockie said after the events of the past four years the review result was inevitable and not unexpected.

"In 15 months time the review team will return. That is when we will see how our hard work to date and over the past year or so has paid off."

The number of fulltime equivalent students at the institute was 2020 in 2012, but had dropped to 1734 by 2015.

Mr Brockie said the review was a snapshot of four years. It did not include its positive results for 2016.

He said the council still had confidence in the institute's chief executive Barbara George, who took the reigns in 2013.

Ms George said she had no intention of resigning over the poor result.

A Taranaki business lobby said the damning report was terrible news for the region.

Taranaki Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Williams said it was time the institute got its act together.

"I'm very disappointed to hear that after all this time that WITT still struggles to be recognised as the institution that our province really needs."

Mr Williams said he was confident the polytech's new board would right the ship.

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