8 Dec 2023

Te Pūkenga to be replaced with 8-10 institutions - minister

12:26 pm on 8 December 2023
Te Pukenga

The government has begun the process of disestablishing Te Pūkenga. Photo: supplied

The new tertiary education minister says Te Pūkenga will be replaced with eight to 10 individual institutions, and hopes legislation will be in place within eight months.

The government has begun the process of disestablishing the super-institute which combined 16 polytechnics and nine workplace training providers on 1 January this year.

No caption

Penny Simmonds Photo: National Party supplied

Tertiary Education Minister Penny Simmonds told the organisation on Thursday it was no longer a government priority to centralise vocational training and education - and asked it to review its number of jobs, creating uncertainty for hundreds of staff.

Simmonds said although a lot of money had been spent in terms of employing people at head office Te Pūkenga was not delivering its promised efficiencies.

"In essence the institutions are still delivering the training, they are still doing their own finance, their own payroll, their own admin, their own IT.

"So they have been continuing to run and deliver education and training while this big bloated head office and lots of money being spent on consultants had been writing strategies and preventing the individual institutions from making sensible choices and sensible decisions."

The new government was looking at keeping eight to 10 institutions across the country with some shared services where it made sense, she said.

"What we aren't talking about is a big heavy bloated head office that slows down decision-making and stops innovation and stops communities having a say on what goes on in their local polytechnic."

Consultation on which eight to 10 institutions will remain needs to get underway, she said.

"We need to be talking to those campuses, we need to be talking to those communities and those industry leaders."

Decisions about things like staffing would be done at a regional level, she said.

"They know the staffing levels that are needed, they will know what their budget can afford. It won't be someone in the centre making that decision based on no knowledge of what's needed in that region."

There was a need to see what was financially viable and met communities needs, she said.

A fast process was needed given "it had been a long convoluted period of anxiety and uncertainty" for staff, she said.

Simmonds said she hoped the legislation to make the change would be in place within six to eight months.

She denied there would need to be rebranding, saying polytechnics already had their own branding and did their own marketing and it would just be removing the Te Pūkenga branding.

Centralising polytechnics under Te Pūkenga had not improved the debt situation, she said.

She said under the previous system of individual polytechnics it was not competing against each other which put them into debt.

"It has been small pockets of institutions that weren't financially viable because they were too small and then in other cases larger ones that were not operating sensibly and were not operating well."

Govt needs to focus on funding not restructuring - union

Tertiary Education Union national secretary Sandra Grey said the move was very unsettling and some staff may question whether they want to continue working in the area of vocational education.

"There is a very strong commitment to learners from staff in the sector, but their jobs have been really tough, we've seen greater numbers of people leaving the sector over the last few years anyway because of the ongoing change that's going on - I think that will just get worse despite that commitment to students."

There had already been major change in the sector in the last 18 months with all of the senior managers at the former Industry Training Organisations and polytechnics made redundant, she said.

"And now apparently that is not needed and something new is needed."

It came down to a lack of money and the government should be addressing that rather than the structure, she said.

"Te Pūkenga doesn't have enough money to run but individual polytechnics and individual industry training organisations won't have enough money to run either."

Grey said a model where the institutions were forced to compete for money and students was wasteful and did not deliver for the students and communities.

The government should not rush the change and needed to slow down, she said.

Relatively simple to re-establish regional providers - Ker

Phil Ker, who was chief executive at Otago Polytechnic from 2004 until 2020, opposed the centralisation in the lead-up to the creation of Te Pūkenga.

Ker told Nine to Noon it would be a relatively simple process for the institutions to re-establish their presence as regional providers.

"But I think the change from centralisation is a lot more than simply removing branding, it's about making the call what things should remain centralised."

The minister had clearly said some things should continue to be centralised but they would need to work out what could be dismantled, he said.

"I think the good news is though that such so little has actually happened in the last three years that there's not a lot to dismantle at this point."

For example, some curriculum development could be centralised and he was a fan of some form of national learners' support centre, he said.

Ker said he was "totally astonished" that Te Pūkenga management went ahead with appointing staff knowing that a change of government was likely and that if that happened Te Pūkenga would likely be disestablished.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs