What’s Happening to Polytechnics in 2021 Under New Zealand’s Reform of Vocational Education

Claudia Reiners
April 29, 2021

What’s Happening to Polytechnics in 2021 Under New Zealand’s Reform of Vocational Education

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Under New Zealand’s Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), 16 existing polytechnics merged under one mega-polytech – Te Pūkenga.

In 2019, the government announced reforms to the country’s vocational education system. The reform will see New Zealand build a more robust and sustainable education ecosystem.

There are seven key changes proposed under this initiative:

  • Form six new industry-led and governed Workforce Development Councils.
  • Establish Regional Skills Leadership Groups.
  • Establish Te Taumata Aronui.
  • Shift the role of workplace learning from Industry Training Organisations to providers themselves.
  • Establish Centres of Vocational Excellence.
  • Unify the vocational education funding system.

This article will take a closer look at Te Pūkenga as it continues to be rolled out across New Zealand.

What is Te Pūkenga?

“Vocational education in New Zealand today is overly complex and not attractive enough for neither students nor employers,” says Minister of Education Chris Hipkins. 

Te Pūkenga (previously known as the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology) will bring depth to New Zealand’s current vocational education system. 

The mega-polytech will bring together 16 regional Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) under one organisation. Acting as a joint network of education providers, Te Pūkenga will be the ultimate long-term skills training partner for learners, employers and communities.

Through Te Pūkenga, students will be able to shift between work-based, on-campus or online learning – allowing for a more well-rounded educational experience.

Why does New Zealand need Te Pūkenga?

Te Pūkenga was created to:

  • Meet the learning needs of the future workforce by offering accessible, on-campus or online learning.
  • Improve the consistency of vocational education and training across all education institutions.
  • Address long-term skills shortages by ensuring learners develop the appropriate competencies needed to be successful post-study.

New Zealand’s workforce is rapidly changing, with certain industries declining, while others rapidly accelerate. At the same time, literacy, numeracy and technical skills are becoming more important in a wide array of roles, including blue-collar jobs. This means that strong collaboration between industry and vocational education providers is needed to ensure that graduates have the right skills to contribute meaningfully to the workforce. 

The economic impact of COVID-19 also means the workforce requires more highly-skilled workers to contribute to the economy. Workers themselves may also be looking for ways to upskill and future-proof their roles by obtaining in-demand training.

Te Pūkenga is well-positioned to offer students the learning experience they are searching for, while ensuring this education aligns with industry and economic needs.

What this change means for stakeholders

The transition to Te Pūkenga poses significant changes and challenges for many stakeholders. Here are some of the changes to be expected over the next two years:

  • Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics

    The new operating model will see New Zealand’s 16 regional ITPs become subsidiaries of Te Pūkenga, each also gaining a new board of directors. Looking to the future, ITPs will work with Te Pūkenga to co-design future education and work-based training programs. Presently all 16 polytechnics are in their transitional period, with full transition expected by 2023.

  • Domestic learners

    There will be no disruptions to existing students while the transition to the mega-polytech takes place; students will continue training with their current education provider. As the rollout continues, prospective students will gradually be directed to Te Pūkenga, where they can enrol in their program of choice and select their preferred mode of learning.

  • Industry Training Organisations

    Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) have already begun to step back from some of their existing responsibilities — the biggest being a facilitator of workplace learning. Instead, ITOs will be involved in driving policies and setting learning standards with Te Pūkenga’s board of directors.

Once rolled out, Te Pūkenga will function as a mega-polytech servicing all of New Zealand. This will create a standardised yet flexible experience for students, allowing them to pursue training that is relevant to themselves and industry.

With greater industry input into training programmes, New Zealand is set to see a more highly-skilled workforce that is truly prepared for the future world of work.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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