The Te Pūkenga Debacle: One size doesn’t fit all
The hope is to simplify vocational education and training and make it profitable. In other words: time to cut our losses with another merger.
While Hurricane Gabrielle has been rightly dominating the news, another disaster has been unfolding off the radar. I’m talking about the latest in what is fast becoming a long line of resignations at an organisation called Te Pūkenga. Richard Forgan, deputy chief executive strategy and transformation, recently left the job a mere ten weeks after starting. He follows chief executive Stephen Town (August 2022), and chief financial officer Matthew Walker (September 2022). Deputy chief executive Merran Davis quit in April 2021.
What exactly is Te Pūkenga? It is the newish crown entity that recently spent $3.5 million on a campaign to help us understand precisely what it does. Put briefly; Te Pūkenga now runs 25 tertiary providers in vocational education; 25 previously-independent organisations merged into one. Why? Because some of them were underperforming financially. The hope is to simplify vocational education and training and make it profitable. In other words: time to cut our losses with another merger.
Cutting access to the vocational ecosystem will leave those it serves with fewer paths to bettering themselves.
More broadly, vocational education is an overlooked area of the tertiary sector that offers chances, lifelines and hope for those looking for a step up in life. Unfortunately, it’s outside the “preschool-primary-secondary-university” treadmill. Cutting access to the vocational ecosystem will leave those it serves with fewer paths to bettering themselves.
We’re also watching a real-time example of why centralisation is not the answer to regional problems. People at the coal face of successful institutions don’t like it. Staff members at Otago Polytechnic, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best-performing vocational education centres, submitted against the merger when it was first proposed. They were concerned they were “being set up to fail.” And those who’ve been in the business aren’t sure this initiative will work; National MP Penny Simmonds, the former CEO of Southern Institute of Technology, says, “Just simply merging them [the vocational education institutions] doesn’t fix all the problems.”
What we are ‘fixing’ is reducing the number of intermediary institutions that give many people purpose, meaning, and hope. And why should one size fit all? Yes, some of the vocational providers weren’t performing well. But at a time when the regions are doing it tough, shouldn’t we be amplifying regional development through institutions like these? Rather than absorbing regional vocational providers into large metropolitan institutions, why don’t we implement more of what works? It’s counterproductive and confusing.
Local communities need to thrive… In the fixing, one size won’t fit all.
What is certain is that if nothing changes, the resignations will continue. Those organisations that are succeeding, like Nelson Polytechnic, should have the autonomy to continue to offer the specialised education services their people need. Local communities need to thrive. It’s the same for areas trying to recover post-Cyclone Gabrielle as it is for Te Pūkenga. In the fixing, one size won’t fit all.go back