UCOL says it remains focused on providing certainty to students after Education Minister Chris Hipkins' proposed reform of vocational education.

Hipkins announced last week that a new national body will take over New Zealand's 110,000 polytechnic students and 140,000 apprentices and industry trainees.

The proposed NZ Institute of Skills and Technology will take over programme design and administration for all campuses of 16 separate polytechnics.

That includes the Universal College of Learning (UCOL) which has campuses in Palmerston North, Whanganui, Levin and Masterton.


The plan was designed to avert a crisis which saw many polytechnics slide into deficits due to a 19 per cent slump in domestic enrolments between 2010 and 2017 as the job market lured young people straight into jobs instead of training.

UCOL reports that despite polytechnics being under-funded, they have improved their educational performance and produced successive surpluses in 2017 and 2018.

Chief executive Dr Amanda Lynn is confident in UCOL's ability to engage in the minister's reform process.

"With the focus on life-long learning, UCOL has almost 180,000 potential students available to us and we are committed to meeting the needs of our regions," Lynn said.

"We are looking forward to the minister showing his commitment to life-long learning and retraining by investing in our people as we continue our innovation and construct a leading 21st century training provider."

The proposed changes are far more radical than any of the options discussed in consultation with the sector last year.

Hipkins stated in a Cabinet paper that "change on this scale will be disruptive" and has allowed a six-week consultation period ending on March 27.

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


UCOL chairman Ben Vanderkolk said the reform process provides UCOL with opportunities for both students and industry.

"We welcome the opportunity to reach out to and work closely with Industry Training Organisations," Vanderkolk said.

"We are engaging in consultation and innovating to ensure we provide ever-greater value to our rohe economy."

There is no indication in the Cabinet paper or Hipkins' press release that any of the existing polytechnic campuses will be closed.

"Collaboration is vital, change is inevitable and this requires pace and agility," Vanderkolk said.

"We are confident of our ability to adapt and to achieve the highest NZQA Category 1 status, delivering quality vocational skills and training to higher numbers of students and being valued as an industry partner."

All details of financial implications have been deleted from the published version of the Cabinet paper apart from a line acknowledging: "Investment will be required to support the proposed vocational reforms."

Hipkins said there could be "further costs in future as a result of these change proposals", but added there would have been costs if polytechnics were left unchanged.

"We want to see a structure and funding system that truly enables learner-centric organisations," Lynn said.

"We want our staff to have quality jobs, with good pay and secure tenure, where they feel valued by the organisation and by the nation."

Polytechnics employed 12,960 people in 2017, equivalent to 8150 fulltime staff.

Hipkins acknowledged there could be job losses, but said it was irresponsible to speculate how many.

He said those whose jobs would be affected would be offered the chance to retrain and a long timeframe for implementation meant nobody was going to wake up and suddenly find themselves without a job.

The proposed NZ Institute of Skills and Technology could be in place by the start of next year.