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UCOL marks last stages of merger with Te Pukenga

Polytechnics around New Zealand must learn a new lesson – working as one under Te Pukenga.
Two years after it was initially signalled Wairarapa’s UCOL campus formally merged with the national tertiary entity, Te Pukenga, yesterday.
The organisation, Te Pukenga, The New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, was formed in 2020 by merging New Zealand’s sixteen institutes of technology and polytechs [ITPs].
UCOL Wairarapa staff held a shared breakfast and planted a harakeke [flax bush] alongside the stream on campus to mark the occasion in an early morning ceremony.
Director Carrie McKenzie said the harakeke signified the weaving of UCOL Wairarapa into the mega polytechnic.
There are currently 331 students enrolled at the Wairarapa campus, which saw 142 students graduate last year.
Te Pukenga was created under Chris Hipkins, minister of education, at the beginning of 2020.
In a 2018 report Hipkins stated that while some ITPs were performing well, others faced immediate viability concerns.
“I want to ensure that New Zealand has healthy and effective public regional vocational education provision into the future that can meet the labour market demands and skill needs of our regions,” he said.
The merger was the most significant reform seen in the sector in 30 years.
Previously, each ITP developed programmes internally and competed against others for funding. In the new system, institutions would share curriculum resources and programmes across the system.
For example, to offer a new course, Te Pukenga Wairarapa could request curriculum resources from another campus in New Zealand which already offers it rather than develop an entire programme internally.
McKenzie said smaller campuses, such as in Wairarapa, benefit from the reform, as they previously suffered under a competitive funding system and did not attract the student numbers of larger centres.
She said Te Pukenga Wairarapa could offer a more diverse range of programmes under the new system.
Moving between polytechnics mid-qualification was not previously straightforward, as different ITPs would not always recognise each other’s courses.
The merger will nationally unify vocational qualifications so students can move between regions and continue learning from a new campus.
However, Te Pukenga has not been without controversy and has faced strong opposition from the National Party.
In August, chief executive Stephen Town resigned after going on “special leave”; in September, chief financial officer Matthew Walker quit just months into the job.
National’s tertiary education spokesperson Penny Simmonds said the merger was a waste of money.
“In my 23 years of experience as chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology, I can see it’s a waste of money, and it’s taking control away from the local communities that the polytechs are meant to serve,” she said.
Linda Sissons, director of UCOL Te Pukenga, confirmed that there are currently no changes in staff and no change to teaching activities in 2023.
However, she said Te Pukenga was currently hiring national executives in Hamilton.
There are currently 14 general staff and 33 academic staff at the Wairarapa campus. However, Sissons did not confirm what the new organisational structure would eventually mean for jobs in Palmerston North or Masterton.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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