23 Jun 2023

Teacher shortage in capital will take another hit if university axes training course, principal warns

8:07 am on 23 June 2023
Vic Uni sign

Victoria University of Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Universities are warning the under-funding of secondary school teacher education is critical.

They say Victoria University of Wellington's shock proposal to cease its one-year programmes for aspiring secondary teachers at the end of the year is the result of a long-standing lack of support.

Meanwhile, Wellington secondary schools warned RNZ they would struggle to hire teachers if the university's plan went ahead.

Chair of the Council of Deans of Education, Don Klinger from the University of Waikato, said nobody expected Victoria's decision but it was not surprising.

"We all expected at some time somebody would make that decision," he said.

"I've been a dean and PVC [pro vice-chancellor] now for over five years and my first meeting I had when I arrived as a dean was about secondary teacher education. It's a very expensive programme to run."

Professor Klinger said government funding and student fees did not cover the cost of secondary programmes, especially in subject specialisations with low student numbers such as physics and Māori-medium.

He said universities relied on their early childhood and primary teaching programmes to cross-subsidise secondary courses, but enrolments were falling, partly because of competition from private institutions that did not offer secondary teaching.

He said funding for teacher education had been in a critical state for several years and secondary teaching programmes would survive only as long as university managers were willing to retain loss-making courses.

"I think it depends on how long vice-chancellors want to keep funding a losing proposition," he said.

Klinger said the government should introduce differential funding so expensive-to-run programmes with small numbers of students received more money.

He said another option was for different universities to specialise in different secondary subjects, but it might be hard to find an institution willing to take all enrolments in subjects that were most expensive to teach such as physics.

Discussions ongoing on teacher education - govt

Jan Tinetti

Education Minister Jan Tinetti. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Education Minister Jan Tinetti indicated the government was considering the future of teacher education.

"I don't like seeing secondary teacher training or primary teaching going from anywhere but I think that's something we need to keep looking at is how we are training teachers in this country. Those are other discussions that we've got going on," she said.

Asked if the government could provide extra funding for Victoria, Tinetti said the government had asked for advice on options but all organisations, including universities, had to decide how to cope with rising costs.

Meanwhile, Naenae College principal and the Wellington representative on the Post Primary Teachers Association's Secondary Principals Council, Nic Richards, said the city would feel the national teacher shortage more keenly if Victoria's plan went ahead.

"We're in a crisis of shortage so it will worsen that, absolutely no doubt about that. We have employed previously a number of graduates who have spent time in our college," he said.

Richards said it was already almost impossible to hire New Zealand-trained teachers. The last role he advertised had 17 applicants, but all were from overseas.

He said graduates from other regions were difficult to attract to Wellington.

"Where trainees do not already have established a place of residence, a sense of community, a friend network, we're going to be asking a lot more of our graduates if they're coming from outside of the region. It's a massive obstacle," he said.

Richards said Wellington principals were worried about the end of Victoria's programme, but there was not much they could do about it.

Victoria University said it would announce final decisions on its proposals on 14 August.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs