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Under-funding in past decade leaves polytechs in bad state, says union

Mar 18th, 2018 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

The funding system for polytechnics and institutes of technology is in line for changes.

Polytechs need a breather after a decade-long struggle with under-funding, a trade unionist says.

Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey wants the funding model for polytechnics and institutes of technology looked at as part of a new government review.

“For the last 10 years, basically, the government’s held steady the amount of money it’s put into the sector, but expected more for that money, expected more things to happen.”

Grey was among those from the sector calling for change at the Voices from Tertiary Education forum on March 1.

Since then, Monday’s announcement of job cuts by the management of Toi-Ohomai Institute of Technology in the Bay of Plenty have underlined the TEU’s calls for change.

Grey also flags the effect on student numbers of the economic cycle.

“When there’s high employment, and people are getting jobs, they don’t go to the ITPs, when there’s lots of unemployment, the ITPs will be really busy.

“We actually need a funding model and an approach which allows us to work through that.”

Grey says the sector must learn to cope with these cyclical swings to avoid cutting courses, facilities and tutors only to face increased student demand down the track.

Charles Finny, independent chair of New Zealand Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics, is championing a review for the same reasons.

“We really do think it’s time to look afresh at the sector and develop a series of policies that are going to mean that it’s not so vulnerable to demographics, not so vulnerable to swings in the economic cycle.

“What happens when the economy is growing strongly, as we have seen in recent years, there’s less demand for study, so people can get jobs more easily.

“When the economy is in a downturn, not growing, then there is huge demand for places in ITPs as people want to retrain.

Cash-strapped institutions have responded to the lack of funding by cutting costs and signing up more international students as an alternative forms of revenue, Finny says.

While this brings diversity, it also breeds a dependency by some institutions on international students, Finny says.

Changes in the workplace mean more people will seek mid-career training in the future.

“The ITP sector is very well placed to provide that training, so the new model, whatever it is, should take that into account as well.”

He says the ITP sector will be actively involved in the review.

“It’s a really exciting time to be looking into the future and designing a new system.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins recently questioned whether New Zealand needs 16 polytechs.

He announced a sector-wide review was needed as he pumped $8.5 million to the West Coast’s troubled Tai Poutini Polytechnic (TPP) on February 28.

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