New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations National President James
Ranstead argues student voice is crucial in the Reform of Vocational
Submissions received by the Government during the consultation period
for the Reform of Vocational Education point to a fragmented education and
training system. Currently it is difficult for organisations to collaborate and hard for learners to move between or combine on-the-job and off-the-job learning.
To address these issues, the Government has announced their proposal to
redefine roles for industry bodies and education providers. This would see
a streamlining of the education to work transitions, and the role of
supporting workplace learning and assessment transferred to regional
vocational education providers.
Through our own extensive student consultation, NZUSA has found that the
majority of polytechnic students do want to enhance the education to work
transition. Students identify their studies as having a clear link and
direct line of sight to their desired future career.
These findings are particularly clear with those students that study in the
nationally popular, more traditional vocational fields such as nursing.
As we’ve travelled through the country to discuss vocational education it
has been heartening to hear the strong identification students have for
their communities and regions. And it has been clear that polytechnics are
crucial to regions, that they are the lifeblood of local communities.
They’re where people are driven to reach their potential, families strive
to better themselves and local economies are built.
Students at polytechnics value the distinct lifetime experience of studying
for a qualification, the opportunity to learn about themselves and their
peers, and to engage in constructive discussion and critical thinking.
What’s more, students relish the opportunity to do so in their own
communities, and with established support networks of friends and whanau.
The changes proposed by the government signal a greater appreciation of
what polytechnics provide their students and regions – expertise in
delivering education, pastoral care, and a physical space for the sharing
of ideas, the creation of community, and the fostering of a shared student
The proposed changes also recognise the importance of industry support and
But with greatly enhanced industry influence, there is, however, a clear
risk that the student voice will be crowded out.
Student voice is currently hugely unequal amongst institutions within the
polytechnic sector. Many do not have any form of student voice, others have
minimal. Some have a functioning students’ association and student voice
structure, but are greatly limited by resource constraints and the
ever-present risk of funding cuts. And in most industry training spaces
there is no way for students to have a voice.
Student representation at every level is crucial to ensuring the success of
these reforms. The NZUSA has therefore recommended students be represented
in the proposed Regional Leadership Groups and that a Student Advisory Subcommittee
comprised of representatives from regional campuses is formed. The proposed reforms
to vocational education offer both challenges and opportunities.
From a student perspective, it’s vital that student voice is maintained and
enhanced. Students are ready to step up and meet this challenge, we just
hope that the government and institutional leaders are as well. The
proposed reforms offer much for students and the communities they live in,
but only seats alongside decision makers will make sure our best interests
to be served.