The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins has announced a potential merger of New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics, as part of a major overhaul of the education sector.
Mr Hipkins says that the strong labour market is encouraging people to move straight into the workforce instead of continuing formal education.
It might be, but we need to have a look at the reasons for this being the case. National and Labour have both spent years putting down postgraduate research by either under funding it or removing incentives such as the Postgraduate allowance. Such short sighted thinking does little to help students who want to participate in higher learning. Likewise Labour’s failure to offer a fully supported apprenticeship scheme when it was last in office has contributed to the poor state of organisation around apprenticeships.
I have also wondered on occasion what a wananga could do that a polytechnic could not. What is the difference in terms of courses and management? What differences in teaching practices would there be among the staff? Not having been to a wananga or know anyone who has, I honestly do not know. Wananga were the cause of considerable controversy under the Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark and I recall various Opposition M.P.’s grilling the Minister for Tertiary Education in the House.
A third problem has been because of the lack of effort across the economy to invest in high tech/high skilled jobs, there has been less incentive to go to University and complete higher study. Outside of farming we are in many ways still a hospitality/retail/service driven economy, shown by the fact that many people – myself included – still earn less than $20/hr before tax.
I completed last year a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management from the Open Polytechnic. It cost me about $7,000 across two years. It had a research paper that was worth 1/3 of the whole Diploma. During that time I had support that I never had whilst studying at Massey University, both in terms of getting the coursework done and administrative issues caused by having to bail out of a paper before I incurred an academic penalty.
I had thought about going back to University of Canterbury to do a Diploma there, but there were several really off putting factors, not least the cost. Also the set timing of university courses meant I would have had to change my work hours significantly or stop altogether. And finally, University of Canterbury Geography did not sound too keen to have me back based on my academic record, which was admittedly not the greatest.
I noticed that the Open Polytechnic teaches a range of other qualifications as well. It teaches social work to environment, from legal (law) to engineering. It has a campus in Wellington, but I did mine via distance learning whilst holding down a 40 hour a week job. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps New Zealand simply has too many non university tertiary institutions, in which case scaling down the number would make sense, but not to the extent Mr Hipkins is suggesting.