Education Minister Chris Hipkins proposes all 16 institutes of technology or polytechnic (ITPs) be merged into one NZ Institute of Skills and Technology, and that some key roles for industry training organisations (ITOs), be stripped from them and relocated inside the Tertiary Education Commission.
Unlike the proposed capital gains tax, the complexities of proposed vocational education and training arrangements, will likely escape the attention of most kiwis.
Having done public policy work with six large ITPs from 2008-2013, I can understand why the Minister concluded radical change is necessary. Too many ITPs are failing because they cannot adapt to changing circumstances, including changes in government policies. There is also a lack of accountability.
Many will wonder why, despite all the expenditure, do we have such a shortage of building industry tradies? And while twilight golf may have gone, are we really confident that all courses being funded add real value to the economy and society?
Whether intentional or not, conflict has been built into the current model between ITPs and ITOs. The whole system is absurdly complex and clunky. With limited taxpayer resources we should not be paying for this.
The accountability issue could have been dealt with by making the ITPs into companies – the directors risks for trading while insolvent would have sharpened the minds of Councillors. However that option would have been unacceptable for many.
For many, a monolithic single ITP will be a scary prospect, particularly in those regions with successful ITPs doing their own thing. While it might achieve some administrative economies, it could also stifle creativity. The fears of ITPs could be diminished if the new structure embedded a high level of decentralised decision making in existing ITPs. However if that was done too rigidly then nothing else much might change.
An alternative approach considered by Hipkins, would be to merge existing ITPs into a much smaller number. That would be my preference. I favour just three or four with one for the south Island. But his single over arching ITP deserves serious consideration.
While pondering how to sort out this sector, Hipkins could usefully also rationalise his own agencies by shifting the tertiary role of the NZQA into the Tertiary Education Commission. I have worked with both agencies and don’t believe at that time they worked seamlessly together.
More generally I think we have created too many state agencies, partially on the basis that operations and policy are two separate worlds. One informs the other. Given the small population size and shortage of CEO candidates, its more cost efficient to have fewer state agencies, not more.
A cost efficient vocation and training sector (VET) is essential, and I hope enough involved can put aside their narrow personal interests to achieve that result. Germany does VET very well – we can learn from its experience.