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Our polytechnics are under threat

Written By: - Date published: 11:25 am, December 5th, 2012 - 18 comments
Categories: education, Steven Joyce, tertiary education - Tags:

Sandra Grey from the Tertiary Education Union writes about the competitive model that Steven Joyce is using on funding for foundation courses

Many New Zealanders will remember fondly, as I do, their time training at a polytechnic. Remember fondly the hands-on practical knowledge, the great teachers, and the good infrastructure which supported the learning that helped us to get jobs.

This fine tradition of public tertiary education provision is being undermined by an ideological experiment aimed at driving down wages and conditions for the staff so crucial in any education institution.

This year the government departed with a tradition of working closely with polytechnics to establish how best to spend taxpayers’ money and instead made our public institutions compete for taxpayers’ dollars to provide foundation courses.

This unprecedented experiment involved putting $40 million of the $115 million set aside for foundation courses – such as literacy and numeracy classes; or pre-trades courses – into a competitive funding pool, then making polytechnics, wānanga, and private companies bid for funds.

From all of the information that is publicly available, institutions won money if they were the most competitive in terms of price, though all successful competitors had to meet minimum quality requirements – a true market approach to pricing. So, why is this problematic?

This experiment in competitive funding has stripped roughly $30 million from our polytechnics. And polytechnics now have no option but to cut courses for around 2000 students (and growing).

The minister will argue these 2000 students will be able to study at the wānanga or a private training establishment instead of a polytechnic. But, from the information available publicly, there seems to be no direct correlation between the courses being cut and the ones private companies will offer (either in terms of subject matter or where the courses are being offered). This means some students won’t get to study where and when they want.

Added to this, the savage cuts, at last count, have cost around 100 polytechnic staff their jobs. That’s 100 qualified and passionate teachers who won’t be there for next year’s student intake.

We know tough economic times sometimes necessitate belt tightening, but decades of good work in establishing public facilities, sound courses, expert teachers, and quality teaching methods at polytechnics are being undermined by the short-term drive to get more for less.

Staff at polytechnics want the government to spend taxpayer money wisely, but this new competitive funding model only threatens to undermine quality public tertiary education – a cost too high to bear.

TEU members have been protesting about the government’s disregard for our students, our polytechnics, and our communities. We have been protesting because we want decent jobs that’s for sure. But more than this we are protesting to defend crucial public institutions that have served New Zealand so well for decades and will go on being great places of learning if supported by government and taxpayer funding.

The question is who else will stand up and defend our polytechnics, our students, and our communities? Hopefully every person who had a great time learning at a polytechnic and realises we should ensure the next generation and the one after enjoy the same privilege and learning experiences we had.

Hopefully, the leaders of the sector. Over the last few weeks a few of the leaders of our polytechnics have started speaking out against the government’s policies, despite the fear of what this outspokenness might mean for their institution’s funding.

And we can only hope that a politician who was put into power by the people of New Zealand will have some regard for the learning needs of future generations.

Automotive students protesting 

And please don’t let this minister fool you. This debate is not about quality education provision. While Minister Joyce is correct when he asserts that some private companies do better in getting students to complete courses than some polytechnics; it is also true that many polytechnics do better than many private companies in terms of educational outcomes and experiences for students.

If this competitive funding model continues all this year’s winners (who are now having to invest in new premises, new curriculum and new teachers at the expense of the publicly owned and controlled premises, resources and teachers that the government has just thrown to one side) will no doubt in the future have to bid again for funding. And, if these private companies lose next time, they too get thrown to the side, while a new organisation tries to start from scratch.

Imagine if the new entrants’ class at your local school was closed but, don’t worry, it has been tendered out to a private company down the road that might or might not still be operating the year after next. We wouldn’t treat the education of our five-year-olds like that and we shouldn’t treat the education of our school leavers and adult learners who most need new opportunities like that either.

The battle here is not about quality education – this is something we strive for daily as teachers, tutors, and lecturers – it is about whether New Zealand wants to maintain a commitment to providing education across New Zealand in publicly-run, publicly-owned, and publicly-funded polytechnics. This is a commitment we think is worth making for the sake of students, their families, and employers.

Sandra Grey

18 comments on “Our polytechnics are under threat”

  1. karol 1

    Excellent post, worry developments, Sandra.

    Also, I was looking this morning at the section of the CTU’s website on the TPPA.  In a power point slideshow linked there, on the slide headed “Services”, they give this warning:

    Less control of private education providers

    I am cynical, given the NZ government’s record shown on the post above, that the government will support public education in the TPP negotiations.
     

  2. Don Mackereth 2

    Education should not be made financially competitive, we lecturers should train our students to become financially competitive.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Nope, should be teaching people to cooperate as it’s far more efficient and innovative.

  3. Iain 3

    Public providers have to demonstrate that they have systems and facilities in place to support students’ learning. These include extensive libraries, student support services, canteens, quality management systems to meet government requirements. With these constraints they can never equal the cut-price delivery offered by some PTE’s.

  4. Tony Obbeek 4

    In Labours last term of governance, they were making great inroads into funding and supporting Polytechnics and ITP’s. This massive drive was brought about because we were going down the same road and on the same journey that we are once again about to embark on where trades training and trades people hold no value in the eye’s of National governments.
    This country was reaching crisis point with a huge drop in highly skilled / trained trades people, with older trades people retiring, dieing or just leaving, there wasn’t enough push to bring those numbers back up until labour took hold and acted on this.
    These politicians seriously need a reality check, education and health systems should never be stripped down like this, they are two fundimental publicly funded systems that keep our country solid and “moving forward”
    If National out source this training to private providers and at vastly reduced funding this country WILL suffer……who wants to work so hard at teaching, using all our skills and training for pathetic salary’s and little or no infrastructure.
    END.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    Imagine if the new entrants’ class at your local school was closed but, don’t worry, it has been tendered out to a private company down the road that might or might not still be operating the year after next. We wouldn’t treat the education of our five-year-olds like that and we shouldn’t treat the education of our school leavers and adult learners who most need new opportunities like that either.

    This.

    Contracting out to private providers is going to introduce chaos into the learning environment and make it far less effective.

  6. feijoa 6

    This is all part of selling NZ, piece by piece. Stephen Joyce is a hollow man. Where are our opposition spokepeople??? Has Nanaia said ANYTHING about this?
    I think alot of the changes for polytechs have flown under peoples radar on this. Another job for Campbell Live. Somehow got to get the message out there to voters why this is so bad

  7. lenore 7

    I have been involved with a few ptes. Many staff leave because the owners are profit driven and don’t have the integral values around learning and development. Not a surprise that Joyce would be giving more money to the private sector. Just want to say though many of the staff are fantastic – get crap money and work their butts off because of their committtment to their learners. Would love to see community driven initiatives where the community gets together – uses an empty (at night) primary or secondary school and sets up classes and says to hell with central government and we are not going to use the profit gathering institutions.

  8. KJT 8

    Polytechnics have already been gutted, with the bums on seats approach and being downgraded to mere Universities, where the students learn few skills, 30 000 new words and an arrogant attitude.

    This is next, but New Zealand has always, like UK, had this stupid idea that trades are inferior and should be paid a lot less than academic skills. Hence the skills side of technology in schools being dumbed down.

    Well. It is biting in the bum now, because all the young tradespeople are leaving to where they are valued, the bums on seats approach, keeping people in the classroom to maximize revenue, has meant tradespeople are not learning practical skills and the change in school technology to a written academic subject, to suit university requirements, further devalues and loses skills.

  9. FA 9

    Quality teaching and teacher commitments to learner success is not an issue here, I am perplexed at the naivity of public is better then private for the betterment and security of NZ education. We only need to look at the pre and post secondary education performance by the private colleges and institutes to demonstrate the high achievement rates for learners.

    For decades SAC 1&2 provision has not been available to the PTE sector and next year provision is an opportunity for the wider sector to engage in this foundation level education. I am sure that PTE’s would love to employ some of the staff that will be available with their respective subject expertise. With TROQ underway NZQA is encouraging providers to collaborate and share courses and accreditation.

    “To cherish traditions,old buildings,ancient cultures and graceful lifestyle is a worthy thing- but in the world of technology to cling to outmoded methods to manufacture, old product lines, old markets or old attitudes amongst management and workers is a prescription for suicide” Maddock

    • fatty 9.1

      We only need to look at the pre and post secondary education performance by the private colleges and institutes to demonstrate the high achievement rates for learners.

      do you have some data to share?

      • Crimson Nile 9.1.1

        FA may simply mean that children in private schooling (who come from generally better and more secure socioeconomic backgrounds), achieve better academically.

    • tracey 9.2

      My understanding is that private schools do not need to publish the data relating to their students success or failure in, for example, cambridge exams. Some schools might find themselves sued under the Fair Trading Act if they did ;)

    • Sandra Grey 9.3

      In fact many private schools succeed because they take only the very best students, not because their provision of education is of a higher standard than public providers. One of my concerns about PTEs is that students who are struggling or high risk because of their lack of educational achievement in the past will not be enrolled in classes. They will not be enrolled because the PTEs will need to have high completion rates.

      • Dissatisfied Former Whitireia Student 9.3.1

        In fact, the polytechnic practice of accepting any random bonehead who comes through the door degrades the quality for the decent students. Add on to that the practice of simply tolerating any disruptive, abusive behaviour in the classroom.

        An excellent example is Whitireia Community Polytechnic, where [deleted] lies and claims that they have intake standards for foundation courses, when they actually do not.

        Other problems at Whitireia include mind-blowing levels of bad behaviour, with zero classroom discipline. That includes students YELLING at the top of their lungs about totally irrelevant things, sometimes for two solid hours, totally interfering with the classes for which others are paying. It also includes open sexual harassment, including offensive demands for physical contact, and even actual groping. It also includes open bullying by the bad students against the good ones.

        And it isn’t just the students. [deleted] will actually tell an intelligent, hard-working student to be personal friends with a boneheaded harasser. And she will order intelligent, hard-working students to deliberately dumb down (her actual words) to avoid threatening the self-esteem of the bullies.

        And Whitireia Community Polytechnic ensures those high completion rates by artificially passing students, even when they can not, or simply refuse, to meet the requirements of assessments.

        Last year, a student named [deleted] argued with a tutor until he was allowed to leave the room in the middle of a test, wander off unescorted, and returned later with a cup of coffee… Then sat back down and resumed the test.

        Any student who dares to even question Whitireia’s quality or standards will be bullied by the staff, and treated like some sort of uncooperative child.

        [Names deleted – please don’t name individuals. r0b]

  10. tracey 10

    UNITEC, for example, has a requirement built into its constitution/ founding documents that it cannot make a loss. Accordingly it doesnt. On the other hand the 80’s and 90s and early 2000’s were periods when universities (particularly auckland and Otago) ran up enormous debt and then sought (and obtained) bailouts from govt.

    For a right-wing government which believes profit motive is everything, you;d think they would be championing this particular ploytechnic as one to follow, an example. But they don’t.

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