Doubts about new national polytechnic Te Pūkenga's future - report

The report warned that polytechnics and institutes of technology, which would become part of Te Pūkenga next year, were not well prepared for the transition.
The report warned that polytechnics and institutes of technology, which would become part of Te Pūkenga next year, were not well prepared for the transition. Photo credit: Getty Images

John Gerritsen for RNZ

A report shows independent reviewers had serious doubts about the future of the new national polytechnic and workplace training provider, Te Pūkenga.

The March document said too little had been done to ensure the institute could do its job next year.

The report also exposed long-standing tension between the Tertiary Education Commission over what exactly the new institute should be providing from the start of next year, when it takes over responsibility for industry training and polytechnics.

"The programme as currently configured will not meet the Minister's expectations, as we understand them, for 1 January 2023, unless there is a clear intervention of additional resources with an appropriate mandate," the report said.

It warned that polytechnics and institutes of technology, which would become part of Te Pūkenga next year, were not well prepared for the transition.

"ITPs do not fully understand the extent of change required by the reforms and do not seem to receive direction."

The report said Te Pūkenga had been slow to build its capability in back-office functions like IT and finance so it could lead those from 1 January.

It warned the institute might not be financially viable and that the reform of vocational education and training might take longer than planned and fail to deliver what was expected.

The document also revealed disagreements between the Tertiary Education Commission and Te Pūkenga's leaders.

"Te Pūkenga and TEC hold different views of what will be delivered on 1 January 2023 and have done so for some time. This is a significant cause of tension between the two organisations."

But the institute and commission had since told RNZ that they had agreed what Te Pūkenga will provide.

Te Pūkenga chief executive Stephen Town said it had accepted all of the review's recommendations and some had already been implemented.

He said Te Pūkenga was on track to deliver what was expected of it by 1 January but it was still working on financially viability.

"Financial viability of Te Pūkenga as a network bringing together all ITPs and some TITOs [transition industry training organisations] through Work-based Learning Limited will not happen overnight," he said.

"This is a large and complex change and 2022 is a significant year on this journey."

National Party tertiary education spokesperson, former polytechnic chief executive Penny Simmonds, said the review confirmed what she had been hearing from within the sector.

"None of the things that should have been done to do a major change management in the vocational sector is there and all we're hearing now is that everything is going to cost more," she said.

"Nothing gives me confidence that in the next six or seven months they will be ready and all we're going to see is our really important vocational education sector losing good staff, and people being in disarray, institutions being in disarray and more money being spent to achieve less," she said.

She said the government should abandon the creation of Te Pūkenga and concentrate on the institutes that were losing money.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said things had moved on since the report was tabled in early March.

"Significant progress has been made since that report was written. As with all big programmes there are implementation risks, which we are monitoring very closely. This early report is evidence of that scrutiny," he said.

"The Reform of Vocational Education is critically important to ensure New Zealand gets the skills it needs, and learners see its value as a career and achieve qualifications that are recognised nationally by employers."

Tertiary Education Commission chief executive Tim Fowler said it and Te Pūkenga now agreed on what the institute would provide at the start of next year.

"This includes expectations around the operating model and organisational structure and what will be different for learners, employers, and staff."

But he said the institute still had work to do to ensure it succeeded financially.

"Te Pūkenga is forecasting a significant deficit in 2022 and overall financial performance remains a concern. Te Pūkenga needs to put in place actions which will improve financial performance and develop a strategy which will improve its long-term financial sustainability," Fowler said.

Asked if the commission was satisfied with Te Pukenga's response to the review, he said: "Te Pūkenga is putting significant effort into getting its programme back on track. It has already addressed several recommendations from the review, with a focus on those that were seen as more urgent. Work remains ongoing on addressing the remaining recommendations which the TEC will continue to closely monitor."