A massive education shake-up could see NorthTec merge with the country's 15 other polytechnics.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday released wide-ranging proposals for strengthening vocational education in New Zealand.

Included in the proposal was the establishment of the NZ Institute of Skills and Technology — a national system of vocational education and training, which would take over programme design and administration for all campuses of what are now 16 separate polytechnics - including NorthTec.

The Northern Advocate contacted NorthTec ahead of yesterday's announcement to see who would be best to comment on the changes.

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Wayne Jackson, interim chief executive, responded saying the polytechnic would be in a position to comment early next week.

"Regional vocational education is critical for Northland," he said.

"The changes are likely to be complex and have different impacts on the sector. We will carefully consider these before making any comment."

Wayne Jackson, interim chief executive of NorthTec. Photo/Supplied
Wayne Jackson, interim chief executive of NorthTec. Photo/Supplied

The announcement comes after financial challenges led to NorthTec announcing in 2017 a major restructure which saw some programme areas cease and Kerikeri and Rawene campuses "rested".

Hipkins said the proposals are designed to avert a crisis which has seen many polytechnics slide into deficits because of a 19 per cent slump in domestic enrolments between 2010 and 2017, as young people have gone straight into jobs instead of training.

In its 2017 annual report NorthTec's dwindling domestic student numbers were partly blamed for a $3 million budget deficit.

"At a time when we're facing critical skill shortages, too many of our polytechnics and institutes of technology are going broke," Hipkins said.

"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."

The NZ Institute of Skills and Technology will also take over enrolling and managing apprentices and industry trainees from what are now 11 industry training organisations (ITOs).

Hipkins said regional leadership groups - which would identify the needs of the local economy and become a key link between local government, employers, iwi and communities - would be formed to ensure there's strong regional influence in the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.

Hipkins said disruption to students, apprentices and trainees will be minimised by "a carefully managed, phased transition plan".

But he has allowed only a six-week consultation period ending on March 27 and said "transition to the new institute can commence in 2020, with other changes phased as necessary to ensure a smooth process of change".