The National Party says the Government's plans to reform polytechnics and institutes of technology will lead to 1000 job losses, a radical centralised model, and the closure of polytechnics in the regions.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rubbished these claims, adding that the Government needs to intervene in order to save polytechnics in the regions and stop job losses.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins, however, conceded that the proposals had "implications" for people's jobs, but it was irresponsible to speculate about job losses.
This morning, in her State of the Nation speech to a business audience in Auckland, Ardern said the vocational education sector needed urgent restructuring, and that Hipkins would release a consultation document next week.
But National Party leader Simon Bridges said National had been leaked details of the document, and it recommended abolishing regional polytechnics and centralising a number of functions into four regional hubs.
He said it would also lead to 1000 fewer jobs and a "very radical, nationalised" model more typical of Venezuela, which would take control away from communities.
National's tertiary education spokesman Shane Reti said the job losses would hit lecturers in regional polytechnics as well as administrative jobs.
He conceded the sector needed change and National may have centralised some functions, "but we would not have consolidated regional polytechnics into hubs and mass-moved" administrative functions to a centralised model.
Bridges said the Government's plan was similar to proposals to overhaul the school system by moving some of the school boards' responsibilities to regional hubs. The Government is currently considering these proposals.
Ardern said it was "speculative" to say there would be regional hubs for polytechnics, but "absolutely" refuted that there would be 1000 job losses.
She said the vocational education sector was dysfunctional and losing jobs at the moment, and that would continue if the Government did not reform the sector.
"This is about saving jobs. And it's about high quality courses, and keeping these training providers in the regions.
"It requires intervention. What we run the risk of, if we do nothing, is that we will lose them [regional polytechnics] because we have had to put money into providers thus far who have been failing.
"I want to ensure they continue to have a place in regional New Zealand. We need to have training facilities across the country. But if we don't do something differently, we risk losing them altogether."
Hipkins said that next week's announcement would have "implications" for people's jobs, but it was irresponsible to speculate about how many job losses there might be.
"To be clear, if we don't do something, the regions are going to lose their polytechnics.
"We must do something about this. The polytechnics have been haemorrhaging students , haemorrhaging money, and it's simply unsustainable."
In her speech this morning, Ardern said the Government's reform proposals would be "far-reaching".
"Over the last two years this Government has been forced to spend $100 million to bail out four polytechnics, and that is a pattern that started before we took office.
"We need a system of training and skills development that is more flexible and more nimble so we can get people with the rights skills into the right jobs much faster."