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RoVE: risks and rewards

29 March 2019 | news

Government proposals for the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) have met with a wide range of reactions, from vehemently opposed to cautiously accepting.

As key stakeholders in the tertiary education sector, universities believe the proposals signal a number of sensible improvements for vocational education in New Zealand—but also carry substantial risks.

We support the direction signalled by the funding system proposals, but it risks creating distortions between sub-degree and post-degree education. We believe there is a significant opportunity here to extend the broad concepts of different funding rates for (a) on-job and off-job provision and (b) strategic delivery to degree-level education.

The current SAC funding system constrains the ability of universities to produce more work-ready graduates with the skills and experience sought by employers. We are locked in to a funding model that allows only limited flexibility in modes of delivery. We ask that funding at degree level should have similar flexibility to that proposed for sub-degree VET provision, where an industry body or large employer group and one or more education providers can make a business case to the TEC.

This will be a good first step towards mainstreaming opportunities for qualification-relevant work-integrated learning across academic qualifications.

Risks, costs underestimated

Our main concerns about the proposals relate to the creation of a single New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZSIT) and ensuring postgraduate research qualifications remain the preserve of the university sector.

Based on university experience, we believe the risks and costs involved in creating one national NZSIT out of 16 ITPs and the training functions of 15 ITOs are being underestimated. The merger of teachers’ colleges into universities—despite involving only two organisations at a time—involved significant initial financial costs aligning business processes, rationalising support and management staffing roles, migrating teachers’ colleges onto centralised IT and communications systems, and maintaining or migrating historic financial and student records. Long-term economic benefits typically took up to 10-15 years to emerge.

The challenges in driving this sort of change across geographically dispersed entities with different business models and different regional operating imperatives will be immense. And while centralisation may eventually produce the economies of scale necessary to make VET education more financially viable, it may be at the expense of qualifications, training programmes and delivery mechanisms being developed within regions in response to particular regional needs.

Universities already work closely with industry professional bodies—in law, engineering, teaching, medicine etc. We would welcome the opportunity to be closely involved in the work of Industry Skills Bodies (ISBs) where they represent industries that employ large numbers of degree-qualified graduates.

Professional bodies currently focus on specifying skills, knowledge and competence fairly broadly, leaving education providers to determine the curriculum and programme of study required to meet these requirements. ISBs should have a similarly broad mandate.

A degree has increasingly become the minimum mandatory qualification for entry into a wide range of professional jobs across the New Zealand economy. Universities New Zealand analysis found that around 51% of the jobs in the 2013 Census, if advertised now in 2019, would probably require applicants to hold a degree-level qualification in the absence of extensive practical experience.

Employers and workplaces benefit from a spectrum of skills, knowledge, and competencies across their nurses, ICT professionals, and business and commerce graduates, and there is a benefit and a need to offer training and education for these professions across both the VET and university sectors.

Clarifying roles

We believe, however, that better differentiating what universities and ITPs offer would give more clarity to the distinct and particular roles of academic education and vocational education. Ensuring that postgraduate research qualifications remain the preserve of the university sector would help with this.

Universities have:

  • extensive infrastructure around supporting and quality-assuring research carried out by staff and students
  • research offices to help with commercialisation and transfer of knowledge
  • graduate studies offices to provide pastoral care and support to students and the academic staff supervising them
  • human and animal ethics committees, research quality offices, and library research infrastructure designed to support the production of quality research.

Little, if any, of this exists in the ITP sector.

New Zealand needs a strong vocational sector and New Zealand universities want to see our colleagues and fellow institutions in the sector succeed. The next steps in that process need full and careful consideration.