National will undo Government’s tertiary reforms if elected

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National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye

The National Party has announced it will undo significant parts of the Government’s tertiary education reforms and return regional education back to the regions if it wins power at the September general election.

However, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has described the move as a ”desperate throwback” that would be a momentum killer at a time New Zealand is ramping up training.

The Reform of Vocational Education bill was passed into law in Parliament in February giving greater focus to trade and vocation.

Under the change, the country’s 16 polytechnics are to merge into a single entity called the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST).

On Wednesday, National’s Education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye and Tertiary Education spokesman Shane Reti said they “vigorously opposed” the reform and confirmed, while visiting the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill, that it would undo a significant part of the reform if voted into government.

“The reforms were already putting polytechnic jobs under threat and now with the Government refusing to work on reopening international education, more will be on the line.

”A National Government would unwind these reforms within our first 100 days,” Kaye said.

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National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Shane Reti.

“We should be focused on supporting New Zealanders who are retraining and ensuring there are jobs available to them, not making things worse.”

Hipkins said the National Party announcement was ”full of mistruths and falsehoods”.

The Government was giving industry and the regions like Southland more say, he said.

”Southland will keep its assets and there’ll be more courses available for learners.

”We’re also investing half a billion dollars in free apprenticeships and courses, and in supporting businesses to keep apprentices on.

”It’s increasingly obvious that National’s policy cupboard is bare. There’s no innovation, no new ideas and no energy.”

Kaye said the National Party has vigorously opposed the reforms.

”We believe industry is the best at organising industry training and a National Government would return the arranging of vocation training to industry.

”We will return all remaining assets taken by this Government as part of centralising polytechnics and return them to the regions,” Kaye said.

Reti said “while there needs to be some reconfiguring of the polytechnic sector, high performing polytechnics like SIT should be left to do what they have been doing well.

“Rather than undermining the expertise of the regions, we should be building confidence and trust in them to deliver within their communities. National would return the all-important regional autonomy and decision making back to the regions.

Kaye said the National Party was guaranteeing the $40m in assets at the SIT would stay in the community.

”We will enable an insititution like (SIT) to have control over its budgets, to have the autonomy to make local decisions and that will occur right across the country.”

”We think the nature of these changes are too centralised, less control in the regions and it’s not the direction of travel we want.”

The costs of undoing the work already done for the reforms would be ”less than ones of millions”, Reti said.

He acknowledged some polytechs had struggled but said the SIT was the ”flagship polytechnic”.

”Why would you want to change … it didn’t need fixing.”

Penny Simmonds, the Southern Institute of Technology chief executive who this week took leave to campaign as the National candidate contesting the Invercargill seat, welcomed the announcement.

”It means National has listened to those hundreds of submissions that came in from Invercargill and around Southland saying we needed to retain our autonomy, we needed to be the ones who kept close with our industries and our community,” she said.