Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds calls the Government’s polytechnic “mega-merger” a “horrendous waste of taxpayers’ money” – which the education minister rejects.
Simmonds is the National Party’s tertiary education spokesperson and the former chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology.
She said the government’s “much-lauded polytechnic mega-merger” was failing to deliver on its promised financial efficiencies.
“This is a horrendous waste of taxpayers’ money, and it reinforces my concerns that the Labor Government’s plans to merge the polytechnic sector together would not address the financial viability issues,” Simmonds said.
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The merged entity, Te Pūkenga, was forecast to reach a net deficit of $ 110 million in 2022 – which was more than the $ 48 million deficit posted by New Zealand’s institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITP) in 2019 before the reforms, she said.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins rejected these claims, saying Labor had pumped more than $ 90 million into the ITP sector when it came into power “to stop them going under”.
Without reform, deficits were projected to be as high as $ 156 million in 2022, he said.
“Last year, Te Pūkenga forecast a deficit of $ 46 million but actually delivered a small surplus,” Hipkins said, adding that Te Pūkenga had only been in existence for a relatively short period of time, and had inherited a sector that was in a great deal of difficulty.
“So we do have to give them time and support to make sure they are getting to the bottom of the structural problems that they inherited from the 16 component organizations that make up Te Pūkenga to make sure we get the sector back into a viable state. “
The back and forth came after Simmonds asked Hipkins about the financial state of Te Pūkenga in Parliament this week.
Hipkins said deficits were exactly why reforms had been introduced but that they were still a work in progress: “There is still a lot more that needs to be done. I still have confidence in Te Pūkenga undertaking that change process, but it is a complex program of change, and it does have risk associated with it. ”
On Friday, Simmonds said there had been “a total lack of accountability.”
Concerns raised by the Tertiary Education Commission that Te Pūkenga was not meeting expectations, along with concerns from the Auditor-General that the entity was not addressing underlying financial problems, was “clear evidence that Labor’s attempts to restructure New Zealand’s polytechnics and technical institutes are failing , ”Simmonds said.