The government is proposing to merge all 16 polytechnics into one single national entity.

This was announced by Education Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday, February 13, while releasing the proposal for public consultations.

Mr Hipkins said the proposal included creating a New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology that would have a single governing council and would manage all 16 institutes' capital and operational budgets, staffing, and computer systems for managing their courses.

“The world around us is changing rapidly and our education system needs to keep up,” Chris Hipkins said.

“At a time when we’re facing critical skill shortages, too many of our polytechnics and institutes of technology are going broke.

“The strong labour market is encouraging young people to move directly into the workforce rather than continue in formal education when it needs to be smarter and accommodate both. And our system isn’t geared up for the future economy, where re-training and up-skilling will be a regular feature of everyone’s working life.

“Instead of our institutes of technology retrenching, cutting programmes, and closing campuses, we need them to expand their course delivery in more locations around the country.

“It’s time to reset the whole system and fundamentally rethink the way we view vocational education and training, and how it’s delivered, Mr Hipkins said.

The proposals are:

-       Redefined roles for education providers and industry bodies (Industry Training Organisations (ITOs)) to extend the leadership role of industry and employers;

-       Bringing together the 16 existing ITPs as one entity with the working title of the New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology with a robust regional network of provision; and

-       A unified vocational education funding system.

Public consultation is open until March 27.

National Party had criticised the proposal sighting it will result in massive job losses and take power away from the regions for deciding and acting on what is appropriate for skill shortage in their backyard. 

“Amalgamation and centralisation on a national scale will reduce education and training opportunities in the regions,” National Spokesperson for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Shane Reti said.

“We understand that 1000 FTEs are at risk with the restructure and that their functions will be performed centrally. Many student services simply have to be conducted face to face and are unsuitable for centralisation,” Mr Reti said.

However, Mr Hipkins disregarded the suggestion saying there was no recent advice on how many staff would be affected.

There has been a mixed and cautious response from the Institute of technologies and the industry organisations planning to go through the cull.

The Skills Organisation Chief Executive Garry Fissenden told Radio NZ that the system is already as simple as possible.

“Nearly 12 months were spent consulting with the polytech sector but seven weeks will be spent consulting with a sector that has 145,000 students and 25,000 firms involved.

“It's actually almost totally disrespectful to the firms that I represent to actually do that in seven weeks,” Mr Fissenden was quoted as saying by Radio NZ.

Sir Tim Shadbolt, Mayor of Invercargill, criticised the government for the radical move saying it will be devastating for the Southern Institute of Technology.

Others have been more circumspect in their response to the proposed changes.

Ara Institute of Canterbury's Chief Executive Tony Gray had said while he knew broadly what upcoming changes may occur, there was a "significant lack of detail".

Mr Gray was quoted by Stuff news website saying, “This means that it is important for Ara to focus on the day-to-day context of its work for students and colleagues. As always, our focus will be on ensuring a productive and enjoyable year ahead for our students."

Employers and Manufacturers Association and Tertiary Education Union also cautiously welcomed the proposed changes.