By Stephen Hensman
Amid one of biggest reforms in a generation in vocational education, which has seen EIT become part of Te Pūkenga, the new New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology; it is worthwhile reflecting on what our local polytechnic has achieved in almost 50 years.
EIT has, for many years, been by far and away the single most popular tertiary choice for school leavers in Hawke’s Bay.
Hawke’s Bay once lamented the lack of a university in the province, with the implication being that the region was not being served at a tertiary level. It was a view I once subscribed to, but no longer consider to be the case.
In the early days as a community college and then a polytechnic, EIT was the place to go for skills training, but since the early 1990s, EIT has been phenomenally successful in its gradual entry into and then expansion of degree level programmes.
I think that’s made a huge difference and contributed significantly to what is available for young people. Offering a wide variety of degree programmes and many trades, the institute is able to provide students with tremendous choice.
One obvious advantage is that young people have been able to remain at home to do their degree study, rather than having to leave the area for university. It’s made degree-level study more accessible to them as well as all the other programmes that EIT provides.
If you go back in history, you will see that Taradale woman Margaret Hetley initially donated the 20-hectare site that EIT in Hawke’s Bay is on, for the purpose of establishing a university. For various reasons, which I won’t go into here, it was not a university that was established on the land, but rather the institute that has become EIT.
Over the years we have seen EIT thrive and flourish and through its own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, gradually get to the point where it is able to offer degree level programmes. Margaret Hetley’s vision has come to pass in a much fuller way than perhaps she had envisioned because EIT has been so responsive to the needs of the practical industries as well.
During my time as Taradale High School Principal I was fortunate enough to have a lot to do with EIT, mainly through the Trades Academy run through the Hawke’s Bay Campus. Trades Academy also operates on the Tairāwhiti Campus.
Trades Academies were a government initiative whereby education providers, both schools and tertiary, were given the opportunity to apply to establish a Trades Academy. EIT got on board and decided to negotiate with schools just to see if there was a mutual demand that they could fill. And it was a brave move on their part. They invested a lot of resources in liaising with us with no guarantee that enough schools would be on board to make it viable. There was also no guarantee that an eventual application to the government would be successful.
Schools were initially torn between the benefits of the Trades Academy and the internal challenges of sending students to EIT for a day per week, such as transport, the effect on other school subjects, staffing and funding.
Despite the potential hurdles, EIT persisted, thanks to the efforts of the then Deputy Chief Executive Claire Hague and Paul Hursthouse, who is now EIT’s Trades Academy Manager. They were able to build strong relationships with the schools to get this project going.
The need that it was filling was truly significant, because as a country we had fewer trades people than we needed. Apprenticeship numbers were low, and employers were favouring adult apprentices over school leavers. We knew as a sector that we needed to provide skills and opportunities to our young people in order for them to gain apprenticeships when they left school.
There have also been a number of students who weren’t necessarily thriving in the school environment, and this gave them a viable career pathway. So, it was not just the industry whose needs were being fulfilled, but also those of students. The risk for us in high schools was that young people would not see the value of remaining at school and would leave to become “NEETs” – not in education, employment, or training.
EIT also showed its flexibility in extending Trades Academy to Year 13, which further stemmed the flow of early school leavers. I believe the positives of this move far outweighed any issues that had to be dealt with in the process. The Trades Academy programme has also expanded over the years and not only includes the traditional trades, but also courses like hair dressing, business and health among others.
Having watched EIT’s interaction with schools and seen the way countless numbers of students transition from school to trades or degree programmes at the institute, I believe that our region has been well served.
Tertiary education – from skills training to degree and even postgraduate level – has been easily accessible both in Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. But the provision of services goes even further than that, with EIT’s Regional Learning Centres in places like Hastings, Waipukurau and Wairoa becoming focal points in the community.
The last couple of years has seen some big changes begin in the tertiary sector through the government’s Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE). This process is seeing the transition of EIT, along with 15 other Institutes of Technology, and Polytechnics (ITPs) and a number of Industry Training Organisations into Te Pūkenga.
EIT becomes part of Te Pūkenga from 1 November and will be co-branded as EIT Te Pūkenga until next year when further changes will be decided on. The good news for Te Pūkenga is that, in my opinion, EIT has been operating at an optimal level.
The key for Te Pūkenga is to build on the solid foundation that EIT has laid over the last few decades. I would suggest that it is vital that Te Pūkenga keeps the regional focus that EIT has strongly developed and stays connected with local schools, communities, iwi and industries.
- Stephen Hensman is a former Principal of Taradale High School. He now divides his time between working as an Education Consultant for Interlead and supporting a network of schools and ECEs in the Taradale district.