Polytech breakaway could affect ICT education

Unifying influence of national computing qualifications advisory group may be lost

Six of the country’s biggest polytechnics intend to split from the national association, the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand (ITPNZ) at the end of this year.

This could have consequences for the development of polytechnic-level ICT education, say industry observers, as the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications (NACCQ), the key body for advising on relevant skills to include in ICT courses, works under ITPNZ.

The Manukau Institute of Technology, Unitec, Wintec, WelTec, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Otago Polytechnic have decided to withdraw from membership of ITPNZ and set up their own group. Such a withdrawal requires a six-month notice period, so will actually take place at the end of the year.

When that happens, they will be cut off from the unifying influence of NACCQ.

Just as the situation around the teaching of ICT in schools was beginning to clarify, this could be disruptive for that uniformity.

The six institutions will develop new qualifications “but this split could potentially result in big changes in ICT education”, says NZ Computer Society CEO Paul Matthews, who sits on the NACCQ executive.

However, Mark Flowers, chief executive of Waikato’s Wintec, disputes any prospect of ICT education being disrupted. The split has come from more general concerns among the larger ITPs that their priorities are rather different from the smaller establishments, he says. This is particularly so where higher qualifications and research and development are concerned, as the focus of the big-city ITPs is international rather than local.

“We think we can make better progress as a group by ourselves rather than within ITPNZ,” Flowers says. “I don’t believe the disconnection with NACCQ will affect the teaching of ICT,” he says, admitting that the subject “hasn’t come up”, to his knowledge, in discussions on the change. The six big institutions certainly have no wish to disrupt a common approach to ICT education, he says.

“The decision represents a major shift for New Zealand’s ITP [Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics] sector,” says James Buwalda, chairperson of ITP New Zealand.

“That choice is regretted, but respected.

“While this group of ITPs has chosen to work together, collaborations across the ITP sector will continue to be important for supporting high-quality and cost-effective vocational learning for New Zealanders,” Buwalda says.

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