Regions lose with central control

August 2, 2019

The government is centralising vocational education, merging 16 technology institutes and polytechnics into one:

Former Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce warns of the risks in this move:

. .  .Leaving aside the issue of transferring the control of hundreds and hundreds of millions of assets out of regional New Zealand to Wellington, there are huge risks in the proposal. Across the Tasman, New South Wales has just done something similar, merging its 16-odd TAFEs (polytechs) into one NSW-wide TAFE, and it is a cautionary tale. The merged entity lost $30 million in its first year, blowing out to $240m in its second. It’s now in the process of further reform.

Yes, many New Zealand polytechnics are currently struggling, but that’s not unique to this country. When employment is high, vocationally-minded people tend to get into work ahead of going to polytech, and roll numbers drop. It’s been made worse here by the sudden squeeze on international enrolments caused by government immigration policy which is contributing to a perfect storm of red ink.

Interestingly however, well-run polytechnics like SIT in Southland, Otago, and the Eastern Institute of Technology in the North Island, have continued to perform and make surpluses. A few board overhauls and the odd regional merger, plus a bit more tuition funding, would do wonders for the others and retain their local focus – and be much less risky.

The government’s prescription is radical surgery when much less drastic medicine could solve the problems at a much lower cost in both money and jobs:

The Government’s polytechnic and industry announcement today will cost thousands of jobs and may be the death knell for some polytechnics, National’s spokesperson for Tertiary Education Dr Shane Reti says.

“Moving apprentices back to polytechnics and creating one mega polytechnic will cost at least 1300 jobs in industry and probably as much again in polytechnics.

“Employers are telling us they will cease to employ apprentices next year if apprentices go back to polytechnics. This is a big step backwards especially when our construction sector is crying out for apprentices.

“The Government has brutally dismissed the concerns of industry and businesses who raised serious issues with polytechnic training. Industry understands the needs of industry best and who will be the best fit for them, but Mr Hipkins is blatantly ignoring them.

“Now the Minister is turning his axe to polytechnics. Under these reforms well performing polytechnics from the Southern Institute of Technology to Otago Polytechnic will lose the very essence of their successful and innovative local decision making.

“The reforms dissolve polytechnics into hollow and meaningless ‘legacy’ polytechnics. This ideology will destroy tradition, decimate organisational knowledge and the final indignity will be the mega polytechnic spending community gifted cash and assets.

“This is devastating for polytechnics and their staff and students.

“Every aspect of the vocational education sector is under attack. Apprentices are being sent back to polytechnics, polytechnics are being amalgamated into legacy campuses, jobs are being lost, cash and community assets will be ring-fenced and regional autonomy is being stripped away.

“These reforms will be disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships. Mr Hipkins is pushing ahead with ideology over what is best for students and regional New Zealand.

“National will empower the regions to make decisions around what they teach, where they teach and how they teach. We will return polytechnic assets taken by Labour and give them back to communities. We will return apprentices to industry.

“National supports apprentices and regional polytechnics and we will fight for their voice and autonomy in these ideological educational reforms.”

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said the city will fight to save The Southern Institute of Technology:

Invercargill leaders have vowed to fight a Government decision to centralise the Southern Institute of Technology [SIT] with 15 other polytechnics and training institutes nationwide.

Mayor Tim Shadbolt said he was in “absolute disbelief they could do such a terrible thing to our city” and said legal action would be taken against the decision.

“They have really ripped the heart out of Invercargill with this announcement.”

The proposal also threatens the future of Telford Farm Training Institute:

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said the announcement was incredibly disappointing and raised uncertainty for Telford’s future.

“Today’s announcement of the Government’s reform of vocational education through the centralisation of polytechs is another blow to rural and regional New Zealand. 

“It is the people in regions who know the needs of their people best, not a long list of public servants in Wellington.”

Community assets would be taken away, decision-making powers would be lost and as a result, Telford would be disadvantaged, he said.

“Telford’s long-term proposal was turned down because of this reform which will now cause further damage to Clutha-Southland and its workforce.”

“This creates further uncertainty for staff and students at Telford who have already been through enough.” . . 

Successful organisations like SIT and Otago Polytech could have been used as a model for other institutions that were floundering.

Instead the successful are being sacrificed because of others’ failures and the regions lose autonomy to central control.


Priorities

June 20, 2019

Last month’s Budget was supposed to be focussed on wellbeing, but some of its priorities suggest otherwise:

Hon Amy Adams: Why, when Budget 2019 allocated $15.2 billion of new operating spending over four years, couldn’t he find enough funding in the Budget to ensure that Pharmac’s funding at least kept pace with inflation?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As has been traversed in the House last week, Pharmac did receive an increase in funding. In this Budget, in the health area, based on the evidence, mental health received a massive injection of funding after being neglected for many, many years. The overall health budget has received a significant increase. On this side of the House—as I said in answer to the last question—we can’t make up for nine years of neglect in one year or even two years, but we’re making a good start.

Hon Amy Adams: How can he say that he’s used “evidence and expert advice to tell us where we could make the greatest difference to the well-being of New Zealanders”, when the Government has chosen to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into fees-free tertiary at the expense of giving Pharmac enough money to keep pace with inflation?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The premise of that member’s question is incorrect. Money that supports education, money that supports health, and money that supports housing are all part of the Budget; one is not at the expense of the other. What we’re doing is actually making up for the enormous under-investment of the previous Government.

Money spent in one area is not at the expense of money that can’t be spent in another?

It can only be spent once.

Even if you look at different categories, you can question priorities.

Extra resources for children who get to school without the necessary pre-learning skills and for those at school and failing are only two areas of much greater need, and that would make a far greater contribution to wellbeing, than fee-free tertiary education for all students, whether or not they need that assistance.

Hon Amy Adams: How does he think the refusal to even keep Pharmac funding in line with population growth has affected the well-being of New Zealanders like 14-year-old Stella Beswick, two-year-old Otis Porter, or Bella Guybay’s four-year-old daughter, who are all waiting desperately for the funding of lifesaving medicines that are funded in almost every other OECD country?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As the member well knows, and as with the time she was in Government, Pharmac make those decisions. We now spend nearly a billion dollars on the Pharmac budget, and we will continue to invest in that. But we will also continue to invest in the areas which the last Government completely ignored—such as mental health—because that is what New Zealanders asked us to do.

Hon Amy Adams: How does he respond, then, to Troy Elliott, whose wife is suffering from serious breast cancer, and has said that New Zealand’s medicines funding is starting to make us look like a Third World country and that “this Government has to wake up; we’re going backwards.”?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I understand that for any family that is going through a situation where they have a family member with cancer, that is traumatic. What we know in this country is that Pharmac makes the decisions about what drugs it invests in. . . 

Pharmac makes the decisions but the government allocates the funds which determine how much, or little, it can do.

Health inflation is many times greater than general inflation and this year’s Budget funding for Pharmac isn’t even keeping up with general inflation.

 

 

 


Would you rather :

May 15, 2019

The fees-free policy is another government failure:

The Government has reallocated almost $200 million from the fees-free policy as part of Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s push to cull $1 billion of low-priority spending.

The money was cut as the enrolments were not as high as the Government was expecting. . . 

The admission it’s low-quality spending shows it was a policy that ought to have never made it pass the is-this-sensible test.

Universal fee-free tertiary education is neither necessary nor wise.

Nor, when there are so many other priorities, is it affordable.

Would you rather:

  • put more into helping children who don’t have the necessary pre-learning skills when they get to school?
  • put more into special education?
  • put more into helping children who are failing at primary and secondary school?
  • put resources into improving pay and conditions for teachers?
  • put more into writing off student loans for graduates who work in hard-to-staff occupations and areas?

Or pay 100% of tertiary fees for first year students many of whom don’t need the help and some of whom will fail?

The fee-free policy joins KiwiBuild and the provincial slush fund as a poorly thought-out and poorly targeted fail.


Retreat from reason

April 29, 2019

Professor Elizabeth Rata warns about the retreat from reason:

‘Critical times as a species’. These are extreme words, made more powerful recently by their author, Sir Peter Gluckman. Such language is usually, and rightly, used for climate matters so given the strength of his words we need to ask what on earth is going on with our social world.

A surge in an ongoing spat with academic colleagues provides a perfect example of the subversion of knowledge and its replacement by the ideological isms that Gluckman spoke of. These are the ideologies that strengthen in-groups, that draw on the culture of folk knowledges to justify their claims to truth.

Modern society had found another way to understand what it is to be human. We have, in only a few hundred years, developed a new language of reason, one replacing in-group beliefs, one enabling us to communicate across historical and cultural differences, one which has made democracy possible.

Reasoned communication is the way across the divide of difference. It requires leaving the past and its animosities behind. But this is very difficult. The past gives us a sense of security and belonging. The institutions of modern society which unite us don’t have the same pulling power as the rallying cries of the isms. No wonder ethnic nationalisms, nativisms, and populisms with their ‘us not you’ and ‘our culture not yours’ are winning out. Unexamined belief is more satisfying than reason – and its easier.

Those isms might unite people who fit the label, but they divide groups from the whole by focusing on differences rather than our common humanity.

But back to the spat. The names aren’t important although I must confess to being one of the parties. It’s a spat that would be of no interest whatsoever if it didn’t neatly capture the anti-knowledge movement of our times. What’s more, it shows how the ‘isms’ are now in the university, the very institution that should give us trust in knowledge. So what’s going on? In May, the Waikato Journal of Education will publish a superb example of anti-knowledge. It’s not very kind to me but that’s OK. I happily accepted the invitation to respond to the article using it as an opportunity to write about what has happened to knowledge. Surely this is the conversation that Gluckman wants – using reason as the conduit for engagement across difference. Unfortunately the conversation can’t happen. Why not?

For reasoned conversation to occur there needs to be agreement about reason itself. The premise informing all modern knowledge is that there is a reality which exists independently of us, the ‘knowers’. What’s more, we can know this reality.

Our intellectual activity is how we seek the truth of the natural and social worlds. Belief isn’t enough. But what happens when the premise of objective knowledge is rejected, when we say that the world is not independent of the person who knows it, and that we can’t use reason to understand it? This is the case with the article in the Waikato journal. For the authors there is an unbreakable knower-knowledge tie. They insist that there is no independent knowledge for us to share universally, that how we know something is always tied to who we are, and who we are comes from our culture. But without the idea of universal knowledge which is beyond culture we are doomed to talk past each other.

This sort of thinking – or should that be feeling? – takes us back centuries to when beliefs rather than facts held sway.

The knowledge spat used to surface in university circles (think the late Professor Peter Munz’s critique of Linda Smith’s book about indigenous methodologies), though less so now that cultural ‘ways of knowing’ are accepted, even by such august bodies as the New Zealand Royal Society. The Society should know better of course but the belief that knowledge belongs to the knower is a premise of the new dominant ideologies; of ethnic nationalisms, nativisms and populism, and the Society has succumbed.

We no longer trust in reasoned knowledge. Gluckman says: ideas are not contested civilly, people are attacked, falsehoods multiply. He’s right. The current era of enlightened reason may well be over unless we recognise what is happening. Reasoned conversation is needed more than ever, but when knowledge is tied to the knowing group, universal reason no longer allows us to converse across groups. By abandoning reason we are endangering our future as a species. We are certainly abandoning what makes democracy possible. Given that the knowledge-knower belief now underpins New Zealand’s localised curriculum our retreat from the idea of universal knowledge will be accelerated. Our educational institutions are the first to fall. Others will follow.

This is alarming.

Educational institutions, universities in particular, should be places where ideas can be debated, questioned and tested; where arguments should be well thought out, be using and settled by, reason and facts.

They should be active in advancing knowledge based on research and science, not belief.

If they are not they are no better than the sad places on social media where arguments degenerate into personal abuse, where feelings matter more than facts and emotion is a substitute for reason.


Rural round-up

March 4, 2019

EU makes a galling offer – Nigel Stirling:

The European Union is pressing New Zealand to drop the use of some cheese names in free-trade talks but is refusing to open its own dairy markets to increased competition in return.

Negotiators met for the third round of talks in Brussels last week. NZ’s lead negotiator Martin Harvey said the talks had made progress since being launched in July last year and the EU had already tabled an offer on agricultural market access.

“The EU has made us an offer but it is not satisfactory.” . . .

Milk price up but decisions loom – Neal Wallace:

Fonterra decided not to pay an interim dividend because of its debt reduction priorities and steps to improve its operational performance, chairman John Monaghan says.

Fonterra lifted its forecast farmgate milk price range 30c to $6.30-$6.60/kg MS on the back of improved demand from Asia, specifically China, and bad weather slowing production in Australia and Europe.

Countering that, geopolitical pressure in Latin America has made trading conditions difficult in some countries, chief executive Miles Hurrell said. . .

History made as Canterbury woman qualifies for for FMG Young Farmer of the Year final:

A North Canterbury shepherd has made history after qualifying for the prestigious FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final.

Georgie Lindsay, 23, won the fiercely-contested Tasman regional final in Culverden last night, beating seven other contestants.

She’s the first woman from the sprawling region to make it through to the grand final in the contest’s 51-year history. . .

Chance to lower N leaching – Ken Muir:

Southern Dairy Hub business manager Guy Michaels said the key takeaway from last week’s field day at the Hub near Wallacetown was that there is a range opportunities for farmers to save money and reduce nitrate (N) leaching. ”While it is still early days for our research, our monitoring programme being carried out in association with AgResearch is starting to provide a picture of the differences in nitrate leaching in different situations,” he said. . . 

Enterprising family’s team work bears fruit – Sally Brooker:

Usually, it’s the kids who leave home. In the Watt family, it was the parents.

Julie and Justin Watt own Waitaki Orchards, just east of Kurow. Their eight children have become so involved in the business that they have stayed to run different aspects of it.

“Justin and I and the youngest are in Duntroon,” Mrs Watt said when the Oamaru Mail called in last month. “We were the first to leave home.” . . . 

The high school where learning to farm is a graduation requirement – Mary Ann Lieser:

A group of teens gathers quietly in the predawn darkness. Dressed in warm clothing, they meet before breakfast to help capture and pack broiler chickens to be taken to a slaughterhouse. They fed, watered, and watched the birds grow; now they prepare them for their final trip. Eventually, the birds will return as meat and be cooked for the teens to eat.

High school students at Olney Friends School, located on 350 acres near Barnesville, Ohio, witness the cycle of birth and death time and again during their four years on campus. Founded in 1837 to serve the children of Quaker families, Olney has always had a farm program and students have been involved in its operation to varying degrees. . .

 


Helping up vs pulling down

February 18, 2019

Most polytechnics and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) are unimpressed with government plans to merge training providers and centralise control of them, and none more so than the very successful Southern Institute of Technology (SIT).

Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds says she’s “shell shocked” at a government proposal to merge Industry Training Providers throughout New Zealand into a single entity.

Simmonds said the proposal, which was announced on Wednesday by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, “looks potentially damaging for SIT and Southland, but we have to keep an open mind about that”.

“It’s a very big game changer for Invercargill, for housing, employment, and businesses.”

SIT has attracted students to its campuses at Invercargill, Queenstown, Christchurch, Gore, Auckland,Telford and its SIT2LRN distance learning scheme through its Zero Fees Scheme, but under the Government proposal there were no guarantees that would continue.

“It has been our point of difference, and it is why we are successful. There will have to be some consideration given to that.” . . 

The government is planning to do the same thing with schools – returning them to central control and taking power and decision making from local communities and giving it to bureaucrats.

Change is needed in education but it should start with learning from the successful and helping the unsuccessful up to that standard rather than pulling the successful down.

 

 


Fears for training of future farmers

February 7, 2019

The government is throwing millions at fee-free tertiary education but there’s no cash to spare for training future farmers:

Federated Farmers board member Chris Lewis said the liquidation of Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre a month ago was the latest sign that the government needed to overhaul certificate-level tertiary education for staff in the primary industries.

“This has been an issue for a long, long time. A lot of providers have come into the industry and set up training but a lot of them have left or have struggled and at the end of the day it comes back down to it’s not financially viable to run training for young farm staff because they don’t get enough funding from the government.”

Mr Lewis said there was a shortage of trained farm staff and some courses did not provide the skills that farmers needed in their workers.

Craig Musson from the National Trade Academy said few tertiary institutions were still offering certificates in skills for land-based industries and those that were, were struggling.

He said too few students were enrolling and government funding was inadequate for the costs involved.

“In our sector it’s not a classroom, white board and a teacher. You have to have tractors, motorbikes, quads. You’ve got to have fencing, you’ve got to have stock and with all that comes repairs and maintenance and replacement of equipment and a normal business doesn’t have those same costs,” he said.

Mr Musson said the government paid about $10,000 for each full-time agriculture student studying a certificate course and institutions received a further $3000 to $4000 in fees.

That was not enough given the small class sizes and high overheads for courses in farming skills and it was especially hard if students dropped out and could not be replaced, he said.

Mr Musson said more education providers would go out of business unless things improved.

“It’s obviously just getting more and more difficult for the providers that are left and eventually it becomes that it’s not financially viable to do the training any more,” he said.

“You only have to have a bad year as far as feed costs and then you’ve got fuel costs because we have to travel to farms to do the milkings, we have to do field visits and that’s a massive cost that most providers would not have either.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said changes would be made as part of wider reform of the vocational education and training system and the government was aware there was urgent need in the agriculture sector.

“We’re looking very closely at the agricultural sector given its importance to the New Zealand economy, the desperate need for more skilled labour in that area, but actually the problems facing agriculture are the same as problems facing many other industries around the country so we’re looking very closely at vocational education generally,” he said. . . 

Neal Wallace says a new training model is needed:

. . .By its very nature educating primary sector students is more expensive and intensive than other vocational courses.

It requires students to live on working farms, to be given a student-centric education – you can’t teach fencing on a blackboard – and it comes with high compliance and pastoral care costs. Taratahi had a ratio of one staff member to 10 students. 

But it appears to have finally succumbed to the millennial factor.

Fewer young people are choosing farming as a career, while numbers of potential students have shrunk because of successive years of low unemployment allowing those who would normally seek training to go directly in to work.

Telford and Taratahi have struggled to grow their rolls in recent years and are required to repay the Tertiary Education Commission $10 million for being funded for more students than were enrolled.

Not dismissing the obvious distress to students and staff, collapsing on the eve of Taratahi’s centenary adds to the misery.

But its centennial legacy, from what can best be described as an educational train wreck, is that Government and education officials can no longer ignore the essential issue of creating a sustainable sub-degree funding and administrative model for primary sector education.

Tina Nixon also notes two fundamental problems with the future success of primary sector vocational training:

The government: The present government [and those of the past] has never really understood the sector, the cost of training or really got to grips with the woeful performance of the Tertiary Education Commission [TEC], the body that decides what will be funded and how.

This became patently evident when I first became involved with Taratahi.

I suggested that it got into training beekeepers, which, as it turns out, has been lucrative.

The process for actually delivering beekeeping courses took months –  TEC should be geared up alongside NZQA to get ahead of industry demand but it doesn’t – they lag  at least a year, sometimes a lot longer.

TEC is without a doubt one of the most bureaucratic organisations I have ever interacted with, and I have worked with a few.

It has not served the country and its governments well. I applaud the current government for looking to overhaul the tertiary sector, but I condemn it for the short-sightedness about how best that overhaul is carried out.

If the TEC and its current administration survive the next year, then this government will have failed the sector.

The government’s decision not to fund Taratahi was based on advice from TEC —  behind closed doors with no chance for Taratahi to talk directly to the ministers involved.

So, Taratahi doesn’t even know what was presented – but the $30m touted by some as what was required for the organisation to continue  is wrong. What they needed was $5 million – pretty much the same amount it had repaid of the previous administration’s legacy debt. . . 

A request for just $5 million was turned down when the Provincial Growth Fund showers much more on far less worthy projects.

So what of the future?

If the community leaders consign all that has been learned and achieved by Taratahi in 2-1/2 years into the dustbin, then they will be condemned to creating yet another failure and snub some of the best educationists in the industry.

What we need  to see is Taratahi rise again in the next few months – underpinned by all the good systems and knowledge built up in the past two years, within a newly-framed tertiary education sector with the required funding levels. With all that in place, it will become an enduring engine room for primary sector talent development.

The primary sector can do some on-the-job training but that is no substitute for what can be done in dedicated training institutes like Taratahi and Telford if they are properly funded.

 


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