Auckland, December 10, 2023
The Labour government thought in 2019 that it was revolutionising tertiary education, the training sector in particular, when it announced the formation of Te Pukenga or The New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, merging 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and nine Industry Training Organisations (ITOs).
The National Party, which was then in Opposition, vowed to repeal if elected to form the government.
Last week, incoming Ministers were busy issuing Letters of Expectations to organisations and agencies under their charge. One such was Penny Simmonds, the new Tertiary Education and Skills Minister. She brings to her post 13 years of experience as the Chief Executive of the Southern Institute of Technology and staunch opposition to the creation of Te Pukenga.
The Dismantling Programme
In a letter (drafted by the Public Service Commission) addressed to Te Pukenga Chairman Murray Strong, she said that the new National-led government has started to put into action its 100-Day Plan and that dismantling the corporate body was one of them.
“It is no longer the government’s priority to have a centralised organisation for delivering vocational education and training. While Cabinet decisions are still to be made on the disestablishment process for Te Pukenga and the configuration of the future network, my intention is to establish regionally based individual institutions (subject to legislative processes),” she said and later indicated that about ten such institutes will be established.
There were 25 organisations (16 ITPs and eight ITOs) in operation before the merger process which began more than three years ago and the Minister intends to establish regional bodies. It is not known which of the institutes will be merged under the new system. More than 270,000 students, including International students, are currently pursuing various courses in Te Pukenga.
Ms Simmonds was firm in her directives- do not plan anything new, stop further integration, and do not incur any heavy, long-term expenditure- further instructions will follow.
“In the light of the change in priorities, I expect Te Pukenga to consider what activity it has planned that is inconsistent with this direction, particularly those that reduce integral capability in the former ITP business divisions. I also expect Te Pukenga to review whether the large number of new, national roles that have and continue to be recruited for (at the expense of individual business division roles) and other restructuring activities are appropriate,” she said.
Ms Simmonds said that she has asked her officials for advice on the programme of work required to support the government’s new agenda, including the legislative timeline.
“Key parts of that advice will include ensuring financial stability now, and in the future, and restoring regional decision-making for local institutions to ensure they can better respond to the education needs of their communities. I will also be asking for advice on what other changes to the vocational sector might be needed to support and complement the disestablishment of Te Pūkenga,” she said.
The Minister’s directives are clear: Any major financial transactions or investments should be carefully considered in light of the proposed disestablishment of Te Pukenga. In general, the institute should not be taking any decisions that would make disestablishment more difficult or more costly.
A statement issued by Te Pukenga Chief Executive Peter Winder confirmed that compliance was in place and that the organisation was cancelling its proposed IT restructure and recruitment of newly-created positions. He was however unsure of the future of the recently hired staff and those due to be made redundant in the ensuing weeks.
“Our immediate focus is to work through what this change of direction means for the newly-established roles to which we have made appointments, and to the roles that have been disestablished,” Winder’s message said.
Unions condemn move
Former Education Minister (and Prime Minister) Chris Hipkins who was responsible for creating Te Pukenga, said that the new government’s decision “is disappointing.”
“The 16-institutions model is not financially viable. Vocational education and training is changing and more people are learning as they work,” he said.
Tertiary Education Unions have condemned the decision to dismantle Te Pukenga, saying that it was a “grossly irresponsible move” and “a huge step into the past.”
Tertiary Institute Allied Staff Association (TIASA) National President Shelley Wier described the move as “backwards” and that “its ramifications will be huge.”
“Many years of work will be wasted; there are no costings, no timeframes and no other details of the government’s move,” she said and demanded that the Minister release a proper plan.
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff agreed, saying that he was deeply concerned about the impact that another change process would have on the provision of vocational education to the workforce.
“The government’s approach to change is to terminate existing arrangements without producing a plan for what will replace it, leaving everyone in the lurch and without any certainty. The consequences of taking this approach at Te Pūkenga are enormous. The disestablishment of Te Pūkenga is going to mean several more years of uncertainty in this sector, threatening the continuity of vocational training and adding enormous stress for an already exhausted staff,” he said.
Assurance from the Institute
A notification posted on the Te Pukenga website attempts to assure all students of continuity and uninterrupted programmes while the new government decides on the institute’s future.
“Following the new government’s announcement of its intention to disestablish Te Pūkenga (New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology), please be assured that your programme of study or training will continue as planned while we work through the details of how this change will be implemented. We are committed to ensuring that organisational changes that need to be made to meet the Government’s expectations do not impact the delivery of our programmes and training for our learners and employers.
“As New Zealand’s largest tertiary education provider, Te Pūkenga will ultimately have the national and regional reach to become a long-term skills training partner for firms and industries, enabling learners to move between workplaces and other educational offerings and locations as their needs change. It will be the cornerstone of a cohesive, sustainable vocational education system that helps improve the well-being of all New Zealanders and supports a growing economy that works for everyone. We are helping New Zealand move to a vocational education system that puts learners in the centre – a shift from fitting life around learning, to learning that fits around people and their world … throughout their lifetimes.
Vocational education is changing in New Zealand. It’s a journey that will take time.”