The Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) represents the most comprehensive reforms within tertiary education in the past thirty years.

Earlier this year the Government announced sweeping reforms to the vocational education sector. 

The purpose of the reforms is clear: they’re intended to produce a more connected and cohesive system which is responsive to the needs of industry, the regions and the community. And it should be more efficient.

The existing 15 Institutes of Technology (ITPs) will be replaced, over time by a single, national provider. There will be a number of Workplace Development Councils (WDCs) which will develop vocational qualifications and influence funding decisions. There will also be a number of Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVES) which will be tasked to improve the quality of teaching and learning, encourage innovation and engage in related research.

Will the reforms work? We’re supportive of the purpose and the overall shape of the proposals, but see success as being dependent on 4 key factors:

1. Leadership

It’s critical that all components of the new system are led by people who share the reform’s goals and work together as a team, in the national interest.

2. Babies and bathwater

Not all of the present system is broken. Some parts work and work very well. These parts need to be identified, the reasons why they work must be well understood and those success factors carried through and indeed expanded across the reformed system. A particular example of this is the NZ Diploma of Engineering which provides a consistent programme of engineering technician education across the country.

3. Functionality

There is often a tendency in any reform process to place form before function, i.e ‘what is it going to look like’  rather than ‘how is it going to work’? It should be the other way around, function before form.

4. Funding

Funding systems tend to be the single most influential factor in decision-making. This makes the design of whatever funding systems are introduced critically important.

If the designers of the new system can satisfactorily address these four factors and minimise the risks inherent in them, the system should work and work well. There is still much to be done to define important components of the new system and Engineering New Zealand has been actively contributing to this work. One important decision will be on the shape of proposed Workforce Development Councils (WDC), which are intended to define education standards and advise Government on education and training needs for specific sectors. Our preference is for engineering to be the responsibility of a single WDC, recognising the multidisciplinary nature and fundamental importance of engineering to so many sectors of the NZ economy.

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