New Zealand Ditches Marketisation Model


29 May 2020

The creation of a single unified polytechnic delivering quality, accessible, affordable tertiary education across the country in a collaborative mode is the goal. There has been much opposition to these changes from many quarters but our members who have been working in a sector which has seen polytechnic after polytechnic failing financially over the last 20 years, facing review after review, know that these changes can only be an improvement on the free market model that has reigned and has so spectacularly failed.

February saw the first concrete step in this transition, with the passing of the Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Bill, and law changes that in the words of Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, ‘formalise the process of creating a strong, unified, sustainable system to set us up to respond to skills shortages and prepare for the future of work’ in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This strong, unified system will see a refocus on education provision for the whole country, including those providers currently struggling outside of our urban centres. It will see an end to competition between vocational education providers over a shrinking pool of student fees and subsidies, and an end to increased uncertainty and stress among staff. It will ensure students continue to have access to learning opportunities in their communities and especially it will provide a unified funding system that recognises the uniqueness and challenges of the vocational education system and the role of the classroom in work-based learning.

Massive Union Win

The passing of the Bill and the reform of New Zealand’s vocational education and training sector has been a massive win for the Tertiary Education Union | Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) and for our members.

As Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest tertiary education union and professional association representing almost 10,000 academic and general/allied staff in the tertiary education sector, TEU members know the reforms provide a once in a life-time opportunity to right the wrongs made over more than two decades of competition and uncertainty. An opportunity to right the wrongs of years underfunding and divisive policies, that damaged the vocational education and training sector to the detriment of staff, their families and most importantly education and learning in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s vocational education and training sector supports the country’s future IT specialists, nurses, teachers, builders, mechanics, retailers, social workers and community leaders. Where there is cross-over in these programmes with the university sector, our learners in vocational education often perform better than their university-trained peers, particularly when it comes to the practical application of their training. The new unified system - by reducing the need for competitive practices - will allow the vocational education and training sector to refocus on these strengths, and on its core commitment to life-long learning, quality teaching and research in vocational education and training.

The announcement of the reforms came at a time when Treasury figures analysed by the TEU indicated that cumulative underfunding to the sector reached $3.7 billion in 2019 from 2009 levels. Our analysis further indicated the funding hole would increase to more than $6 billion over the next three years. Funding cuts have far outpaced the drop in student numbers over the same period. And the situation was only set to get worse as cash-strapped institutions continued to look at ways to slash costs to deal with the flawed approach of the previous government, including cutting courses, and in 2019 alone instigating more than 130 reviews covering all aspects of tertiary provision.

Regional providers have been the worst hurt because education has been treated as a marketable product for the last two decades, in a market that cares little about regional development.

Now the Government has offered students, staff, communities, and local businesses the space to help create a system that works for us all, and a system that continues to be open to the voice of students, staff and communities.

Changing Priorities

The shift in emphasis that the reforms are set to bring is evident in the shift in language used to describe the operations, objectives and aspirations of the sector. In place of the focus on economic outcomes, we are seeing a return to the language of community, of staff, students and families; of social and professional outcomes, and improved futures for the good of all New Zealanders.

The Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Bill also includes a greater emphasis on reflecting Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the original agreement of partnership between Māori and the Crown,) promoting equity and supporting Māori and Pasifika learners. In meeting the needs of all of its learners, the Bill states the NZIST must operate in a way that allows it to meet the needs in particular of those who are under-served by the education system, including, but not limited to, Māori, Pacific, and disabled learners. It aims to achieve this through meaningful partnerships with Māori and Pacific employers, and communities at a local level, including whānau, hapū, iwi, and Pacific communities.

The Bill further states the NZIST must operate in way that allows it to reflect Māori-Crown partnerships in order to ensure that its governance, management, and operations give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi; recognise that Māori are key actors in regional social, environmental, and economic development; and respond to the needs of and improve outcomes for Māori learners, whānau, hapū, iwi, and employers.


Key to ensuring the success of these reforms, the success of education in both our regions and main centres, and the success of the new national Institute, will be ensuring professional decision making remains at the level of the region, rather than the centre. The decision to legislate for the inclusion of staff and student representatives on council is a key step, but TEU knows we must also be active in informing the new structures so that students and staff are not only represented, but heard.

These are significant inclusions for all New Zealanders, for the future of our society, and for tertiary education in Aotearoa. It has been, and continues to be a journey of monumental change and transition.

New Zealand’s coalition government must be commended for the shape and tone of the reform’s consultation process.

Throughout 2018, the Ministry of Education and the Tertiary Education Commission engaged with vocational education and training sector stakeholders, including learners, employers, iwi, business, industry groups, local government, education and training providers and their staff, and a variety of peak bodies. The TEU was there every step of the way, holding all-staff meetings at every vocational education and training provider across New Zealand, ensuring the concerns of members were heard at the highest levels of the conversation.

But for TEU members, the conversation did not begin in 2018. The questions asked of the review, and the solutions proposed through the reforms have been a part of an ongoing conversation which the TEU membership has led on campuses around Aotearoa. This conversation always emphasised a commitment to quality public tertiary education, accessible and available to all across the country. We set out a vision of a sector that is adequately resourced, one that values effective collaboration and the contribution of all staff and local communities, and one that energises regional communities and plays to their strengths.

Board Presence

In August 2019, the IST Establishment Board Unit was created, and was made responsible for setting up the new institute for 1 April 2020. Members of the Board include those representing the interests of Māori and of business, of employers, council members of education providers, experts in public policy, finance, and TEU Communications and Campaigns Officer and former TEU National President Dr Sandra Grey.

Sandra’s place on the Establishment Board is a credit to her leadership within and knowledge of the tertiary education sector, and she has played a pivotal role in ensuring academic freedom for both staff and students, and for staff and student voice and representation on NZIST’s council is enshrined in legislation. It is also indicative of the rejuvenated relationship TEU now has with Government, and their willingness to engage in open dialogue with and input from a broad range of stakeholders and advocates.

Come 1 April 2020, for staff and students, change will not be immediate. There will remain uncertainty in the short term, and we will face a number of challenges. This is a big step for the sector, but one which is closer to where we collectively see the future of tertiary education in New Zealand. A step closer to having high quality, accessible public tertiary education that is available to students wherever they live, to vocational education and training providers which are part of a nationwide, tiered network of provision.

This is a once in life time opportunity and our TEU members, our staff and students, need to be there, to continue to be part of the conversation and a part of shaping the new system and Institute.

It will not be rolled out initially in its finished form. It is a process that is going to require continued input and consideration from TEU members as the professionals, experts and knowledge leaders in the sector. We need to make the time to ensure that member voices – allied and general staff, and academic staff, together alongside students - are engaged in this process to ensure that the end result is going to be the delivery of better education and opportunities for all staff, students, whānau, hāpu, iwi and communities across New Zealand.

Sharn Riggs

National Secretary

TEU|Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa

Sharn will be speaking at the AEU’s TAFE 2020 Conference.

This Article was origionally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Autumn 2020