Te Pūkenga fails to impress as top executives resign

Jason Heale

Jason Heale

Auckland, February 22, 2023

Masthead from Te Pūkenga website

While Hurricane Gabrielle has been rightly dominating the news, another disaster has been unfolding off the radar.

I am talking about the latest in what is fast becoming a long line of resignations at an organisation called Te Pūkenga.

Richard Forgan, Deputy Chief Executive (Strategy And Transformation), recently left the job a mere ten weeks after starting. He followed Chief Executive Stephen Town (August 2022) and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Walker (September 2022). Deputy Chief Executive Merran Davis quit in April 2021.

About the new entity

What exactly is Te Pūkenga? It is the newish Crown entity that recently spent $3.5 million on a campaign to help us understand precisely what it does.

Put briefly, Te Pūkenga now runs 25 tertiary providers in vocational education; 25 previously-independent organisations merged into one. Why?  Because some of them were underperforming financially. The hope is to simplify vocational education and training and make it profitable. In other words. time to cut our losses with another merger.

Broadly, vocational education is an overlooked area of the tertiary sector that offers chances, lifelines and hope for those looking for a step up in life.

Unfortunately, it is outside the “preschool-primary-secondary-university” treadmill. Cutting access to the vocational ecosystem will leave those it serves with fewer paths to bettering themselves.

We are also watching a real-time example of why centralisation is not the answer to regional problems. People at the coal face of successful institutions do not like it.

Opponents of the merger

Staff members at Otago Polytechnic, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best-performing vocational education centres, submitted against the merger when it was first proposed.

They were concerned that they were “being set up to fail.” And those who have been in the business are not sure that this initiative will work.

National MP Penny Simmonds, the former CEO of Southern Institute of Technology said, “Just simply merging them (the vocational education institutions) will not fix all the problems.”

What we are ‘fixing’ is reducing the number of intermediary institutions that give many people purpose, meaning, and hope. And why should one size fit all?

Yes, some of the vocational providers were not performing well.

But at a time when the regions are doing it tough, should we not be amplifying regional development through institutions like these?

Rather than absorbing regional vocational providers into large metropolitan institutions, why don’t we implement more of what works?

It is counterproductive and confusing.

What is certain is that if nothing changes, the resignations will continue.

Those organisations that are succeeding, like Nelson Polytechnic, should have the autonomy to continue to offer the specialised education services their people need.

Local communities need to thrive. It is the same for areas trying to recover post-Cyclone Gabrielle as it is for Te Pūkenga. In the fixing, one size will not fit all.

Jason Heale is Communications Manager at the Auckland-based Maxim Institute, an independent think tank that promotes the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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