Tertiary Education Commission says it will fund training piano tuners and scaffolders, but not primary teachers

Funding will go towards training piano tuners and scaffolders but not primary teachers.
Funding will go towards training piano tuners and scaffolders but not primary teachers. Photo credit: Getty Images

Story by John Gerritsen of RNZ

The tertiary education funding body is willing to subsidise more trainees in scaffolding and piano tuning, but doesn't want to pay for any increase in student numbers for primary teaching.

The Tertiary Education Commission has released a list of courses for which it is prepared to increase enrolments next year and those where it wants fewer enrolments based on demand and employment forecasts from industry bodies.

It has also told polytechnics and universities to lift their pass rates, especially for Māori and Pacific students.

It has warned them the government is operating in a tight fiscal environment and institutions should not assume subsidy rates will increase next year.

The information comes in the commission's guidance for tertiary education providers seeking funding for courses in 2025.

The Tertiary Education Commission indicated it would fund increased enrolments in courses for big fields like health, agriculture, engineering and construction next year.

It was also willing to pay for new or increased enrolments in niche areas. Among them, piano-tuning, a level 4 work-based certificate due to be offered for the first time next year.

David Jenkin from the Piano Tuners Guild said there were about 60 or 70 piano tuners and many were already beyond retirement age.

"We need it because piano tuners are getting old, they're dying off, there are currently not enough of them and there are a number of less-wonderfully qualified tuners who are working. So we would like to help people who are already working as practitioners to upskill as well," he said.

Jenkin said the shortage of qualified tuners was causing problems.

"Concerts start falling over ... you occasionally see reference in the media, a good local pianist turns up and there's a big stink because the piano is terrible. Pianos get used for church choirs, they get used for ballet lessons, they get used for education," he said.

Jenkin said the certificate would take about three to three-and-a-half years to complete and there were already about 40 people on a waiting list to enrol.

Tertiary Education Commission chief executive Tim Fowler said the diversity of skill needed across New Zealand was huge and the commission wanted to get value for the government's $4-billion tertiary education spend.

"What we're looking for is the big shifts and look at the areas where we need to make the biggest possible difference with the money, because at the end of the day what we've got is a rationing activity.

"We're making trade-offs every day between saying okay, if we want more teachers and we want more nurses, where are we going to not invest so much in other areas," he said

Areas that would not receive funding for increased enrolments next year included primary teaching and a certificate preparing people to apply for plumbing and gasfitting apprenticeships.

Fowler said organisations had to prove they were good at teaching and retaining their students or trainees, especially if they wanted funding for increased enrolments.

"We've said to everybody including the universities that if you want to grow you need to be better at learner success.

"This is about value-for-money and it's not just our value for money but it's also for the students and the families who are investing in this as well. So what we want to do is invest more money in institutions that are good at this and we've given fair warning I think to those that aren't that they need to lift their game," he said.

Commission figures showed course completion rates had dipped across the board, falling as low as 65 to 66 percent for Māori and Pacific students studying certificates and diplomas in 2022 and to 80 percent for Māori students and 71 percent for Pacific students in undergraduate degree courses.