Most people are aware of the major reforms Government has announced, such as in health, Three Waters and local government. All have attracted media attention.

People are often less aware, however, of major reforms announced for vocational education. These represent the most wide-ranging education reforms seen in a generation. They are complex and bold in aspirations. The reforms address growing issues and concerns across the vocational education sector. These reforms involve 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP), 11 Industry Training Organisations (ITO), and close to 250,000 learners.

I’m often asked how these reforms impact EIT and our education delivery in our regions.

EIT has been widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s leading ITPs. It’s grown into a genuine example of a ‘world class’ regional education institution. EIT has been financially strong and sound. We have extensive outreach into Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti, along with national and international reach around highly regarded niche specialist areas. This includes delivery into offshore university partnerships. Student success is strong. Industry engagement and partnerships are active. Māori participation and success are some of the highest in the country.

Prior to Covid-19, we had increasing numbers of international students choosing EIT – in 2019 some 1,450 students from 45 different countries studied at EIT. While there are always areas for improvement, EIT has been widely held up as an exemplar of success in the sector.

Despite our success, the reality also was the vocational education sector needed reform.

We had two separate, unintegrated and blunt funding and delivery systems. Collaboration was difficult or next to impossible. Learners, industry and educators found it difficult to bridge these different systems. Many learners, who may have already been seriously disadvantaged in prior education, found themselves continuing to be disadvantaged. The underpinning funding system was seriously creaking and flawed. It was blunt, unnuanced, based mainly on volume – ‘bums on seats’ – and like EIT, most organisations were forced to pursue other revenue streams to fund core educational activities.

The need for major reform was clearly evident, which the Minister subsequently announced in 2019.

As a result of these reforms, on 1 April 2020, EIT became a subsidiary of a new national education institution, Te Pūkenga – New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. Just to declare openly my own connections, on 1 April 2020, I was also appointed as interim CEO to begin the stand-up process, until Stephen Town, the incoming CEO took up his role in July 2020.

Joining 15 other ITPs and up to nine ITOs, Te Pūkenga will become the largest tertiary education institute in New Zealand, and one of the largest in the world. The goal of Te Pūkenga is to create an integrated national network of provision that brings together on-job, on-campus and online learning to give learners more choices and flexibility in what, where and how they learn.

At the end of 2022, as part of the transition process, EIT along with others, will dissolve as a separate entity, and become fully integrated into Te Pūkenga.

Hence, from 2023 all EIT learners will be enrolled with Te Pūkenga to bring together and integrate the best of the ITP and ITO provision into one integrated institution and system.

There is still much to be done to turn this aspiration into a reality – the complexity should not be underestimated. This is what staff at EIT, and staff across the wider Te Pūkenga network have been actively working towards since 2020.

What is really important to us here at EIT, is that regional voice, needs, perspectives and decision-making are fundamental to the operations and design of Te Pūkenga. The Minister has hard-wired this commitment into legislation in Te Pūkenga’s Charter. EIT continues to strongly champion this to ensure that Te Pūkenga lives up to these Charter commitments.

A highly centralised ‘command and control’ organisation, in our view, will not work for the needs of regional New Zealand. Also fundamental in the Charter commitments are meaningful partnerships and engagement with Māori as genuine Te Tiriti partners.

These commitments are a lot to live up to – to ensure as Te Pūkenga we ‘walk the talk’. Considerable activity is occurring to develop the organisational design of how this new networked national institution will operate and live out its Charter commitments.

I often also get asked about the future of degree-level provision at EIT, as the vocational reforms focused on sub-degree level vocational education. As most know, EIT has built extensive degree and post-graduate provision into its portfolio, right through to Masters degree. What people often don’t realise is that more students at EIT are enrolled in degree-level programmes than in any other qualification level.

This wide-ranging education portfolio will continue in Te Pūkenga. The primary focus will continue to be applied, professional and vocationally orientated, and to grow and strengthen all qualification levels from foundation through to postgraduate level. A key future focus will be on building more work-integrated and work-based learning that best aligns with the needs of professional groups, business, and industry.

EIT’s applied research commitment into our region will also continue. EIT is currently attracting more applied research contracts than ever before, particularly related to regional health and Māori health initiatives. This will continue on into Te Pūkenga.

For Te Pūkenga to be successful, it must be highly engaged into all regions, with iwi and hapū, business, industry, social services and communities. Deep and meaningful regional and local engagement, alongside leveraging off a nationally integrated institution, are all keys to building a successful future.

My time as CEO of EIT, after over 18 years in this role, draws to a close when EIT fully dissolves into Te Pūkenga at year end.

But I can assure you, in the time remaining, I am very focused on continuing to advocate strongly for the needs and aspirations of the people and communities of Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. I want to ensure that the strengths that EIT brings into Te Pūkenga, are also strengths of Te Pūkenga – and that we go on to build a truly integrated national institution that effectively meets the education and training needs of all New Zealand regions and communities.

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