Social workers, nurses unhappy as Te Pūkenga halts plans to standardise polytechnic degrees

Nursing students wanting to transfer between schools would have found it a lot easier with a standardised curriculum, union spokesperson says.

This article was first published by RNZ.

Te Pūkenga has halted plans to standardise the qualifications taught at polytechnics.

The work would have made it a lot easier for students to continue studying even if they moved towns and would also save on course accreditation and approval costs.

Te Pūkenga told RNZ it had unified 330 of its programmes into 51 and would submit two more, the Bachelor of Midwifery and the Bachelor of Nursing - Māori, for approval and accreditation.

However, work on the Bachelor of Social Work, Bachelor of Sport, Recreation and Exercise, Bachelor of Nursing - Pacific, and Bachelor of Nursing would stop.

“The remaining degrees will not go through approval and accreditation processes at this stage but could be progressed by future vocational education and training providers. This decision reflects the change in government direction for the sector,” it said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation student unit co-chair Shannyn Bristowe said the unification work was very promising and she was disappointed it had stopped.

“It is extremely disheartening because once again it’s the removal of another future-focussed structure that was put in place and there was no consultation or consideration of the views of students or the concerns about Māori nursing voice,” she said.

A standardised curriculum would have made it a lot easier for students to transfer from one nursing school to another, she said.

Te Pūkenga says the decision "reflects the change in government direction for the sector". Photo:

A College of Nurses position paper said it firmly supported the unification of nursing degrees that Te Pūkenga had begun and it was “intolerable” that the work had stopped.

It said Te Pūkenga’s polytechnics had more than 4,200 full-time nursing students and provided 70 percent of the 1,941 registered nurses who registered with the Nursing Council in 2023.

Unifying the qualifications would reduce inequitable outcomes, improve access for Māori, Pacific and disabled students, eliminate variations in entry requirements, and stop disadvantaging students who needed to move from one area to another while studying, it said.

Social Workers Registration Board chief executive Sarah Clark said 11 polytechnics offered recognised social work qualifications and the board had supported the unification work.

“Our focus is on ensuring that graduates are safe and competent to practise so having some consistency across the country was seen as advantageous,” she said.

“From our point of view there was a lot to support.”

Clark said the work had been going on for several years and had been close to completion.

“We were hoping to see something from them in the next couple of months,” she said.

Clark said the board hoped polytechnics would resume the work after Te Pūkenga was disestablished.

“Whatever iteration is next for the sector, we would urge that this work isn’t lost. It involved a lot of sector engagement, there was a lot of buy-in from the sector and a lot of agreement that it was a good direction to go in so I’m really hoping that that work won’t be lost.”

Clark said the board had hoped a unified qualification would make social work a more attractive course because there was a shortage of social workers and the 560 graduates each year were not enough.