Students who missed out on University Entrance (UE) in the wake of NZQA changes should know their aspirations for higher education, and a great career, are still alive and well.

There are a range of pathways available to jobs with excellent career (and salary) prospects that do not require a degree.

And there are a range of "staircase" options available to students that mean they can enrol for a certificate or diploma and these can be cross-credited into degree programmes. This means you can upgrade your qualification over time.

The changes to UE, made at the request of universities, have hit the headlines with a decline from 70 per cent attaining UE in 2013, to 58 per cent in 2014. However, what wasn't reported was that even before the changes were made, only about 30 per cent of school leavers went on to university study anyway. Almost as many chose to study at an institute of technology or a polytechnic such as Unitec or MIT in Auckland, or get on-the-job training with support from one of the industry training organisations. Around 87 per cent of students achieved NCEA Level 2 which allowed them to pursue further studies, and certainly increased their chances of finding employment.


Recent coverage seems to continue a fixation with university degrees without recognising the range of qualifications, courses and careers available to students through different pathways and institutions.

Many stand a much better chance of succeeding in their chosen career in more applied and career-focused study or in on-the-job training. Not only can smaller class sizes and a more personalised teaching environment help them succeed in their studies - it can also give them a head start in their career.

Increasingly work-based or work-integrated approaches to learning are being built into our curricula, with more flexible learning approaches allowing students to undertake internships, work placements, or work part-time. This allows them to gain valuable work experience - often credit-bearing - that means they will be seen as more employable by their prospective employer.

At a time when our country's economy is growing, unemployment is falling, and employers across a range of sectors are crying out for skilled people, it is not helpful to reinforce a tired old cliche of a discredited message: that the only pathway to a successful job is through a university degree.

We recognise that not all students are able to gain the best from their school experience, and that by taking a different approach to the learning environment we can often help students build or grow a talent they may never have realised they had.

While there has also been coverage lately of concerns about the world ranking of New Zealand universities, we need to remember that the vast majority of students are not enrolling to pursue post-graduate education, which is what makes universities tick.

They are looking to be able to make a difference in their or others' lives, to prepare for their employment, or to set up a business - as soon as possible, and with as little debt as possible.

Most employers are looking for people with the right attitude, the ability to work together, to solve problems, and to be relevant and productive as soon as possible. Technical skills are still important, however the so-called soft (or employability) skills are seen by employers as even more important.


If we allow commentary to perpetuate this one-dimensional, university-centric view of education we risk losing a generation of talented young people who have been told they have failed.

Education should be about helping each student achieve their potential and succeed in their career. It should be about the learner and the employer, not about the institution.

At Unitec, like with other applied learning institutions, we believe "yes" should be the first response to someone who wants to grow their skills and their future.

The next step is setting a clear course of action to help them achieve their goals, and then support them as they do it.

Rick Ede is chief executive of Unitec Institute of Technology.