Andrew Dickens: Polytechnic mess result of ideology gone mad

Andrew Dickens ,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 13 February 2019, 12:46p.m.
These days the journalism courses are university level and take three years and obviously cost an enormous amount more. Three years of theory with little practical experience. Photo / Getty Images

The Education Minister Chris Hipkins has just released his review of our polytechnic education system. The blighted tertiary sector that seems to have lost its way and required you and me to stump up with $100 million to bail it out over recent years.

So Chris Hipkins has decided that the 16 existing institutes of technology and polytechnics will be brought together under one entity - the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.

Education providers and Industry Training Organisations will also have their roles redefined.

And the whole thing is now up for consultation

I’m a graduate of the polytech system.

Back in 1982, I was a graduate of the Auckland Technical Institute’s Certificate in Journalism, which was at the time the only journalism qualification.

Over 18 weeks I was taught the basics of journalism; the writing styles, the law, how to type at 40 words per minute, how to take Teeline shorthand. I was seconded for a couple of fortnights to various media. I spent a week at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei and two weeks at Radio I in Auckland.

At the end of it, we had the basic skills and then we were snapped up by outlets where we learnt our craft on the job and under the guidance of hardened seasoned journalists. In my case, I was shipped off to Whanganui to work on a radio station. Other graduates ended out in all sorts of small towns, from Stratford to Gore and even one guy in Te Kuiti.

That’s how it worked, and it did work. It was heavily overseen by the industry we were supplying. The Technical Institute taught techniques and the industry sharpened the skills. It also understood that journalists were essentially born, not made and it's important for the industry to find the stars.

But somewhere along the line, the polytechs got bigger ideas. These days the journalism courses are university level and take three years and obviously cost an enormous amount more. Three years of theory with little practical experience.

It became a competitive, semi-privatised, neo-liberal experiment that measured itself by bums-on-seats, with the taxpayer underwriting the risk.

People have been trained in skills that were not needed, for jobs that didn't exist purely because they and their parents, in their naivete and ignorance, were prepared to pay for it. To my mind a halfway pregnant dog of a model that was neither one thing or another.

Now you hear a lot that the polytechs are to be blamed because of incompetence. But I’d remind you Governments were complicit with their policies and I’d remind you industries were complicit as well.

This is vocational training and the people with the vocations need to be helping, rather than leaving it to the boffins who don’t know the full story, and then complaining when they get it wrong.

So Chris Hipkins has decided to centralise the sector presumably under more Governmental control. Over the past week, critics have been saying that this would be ideology gone mad. The death of choice and private education. Maybe Simon Bridges will bring out his new favourite phrase that this Government is Venezuela-ing the education system.

But I’d argue that the problems in our polytechnics are already the result of ideology gone mad. A neo-liberal experiment that was done extremely poorly and a blow against the idea that private industry can always do better than Government.

Frankly, I don’t care what the ideology is. All I want is some proficiency.

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