Unitec students have rallied against a move to trim 50 positions in the design and visual arts department down to 17, gathering more than 1,500 signatures to a petition protesting the changes.
Marisa Vodanovich, spokesperson for the design and visual arts student body, calls the move a "crass commercialisation of education" and a dangerous precedent.
In a letter sent to Ted van Arkel, Unitec Council chairman, on December 1, she writes:
"The argument that eliminating existing staff/practitioners and replacing them with more ‘industry aligned industry professionals’ is baffling given that a large proportion of our staff already ARE industry professionals with highly successful practices in their chosen fields. Replacing the existing staff – who are also seasoned teachers – with ‘industry professionals’, who may well be good practitioners, but most certainly are not trained teachers can only be a disruptive, unsettling and detrimental course of action for the students who are midway through their courses now.
"The fact that the existing staff will be replaced by only 17.6 FTEs alongside a yet to be determined group of ‘industry professionals’ also beggars belief. How can a reduction of staffing numbers of this scale lead to better outcomes for students?
It would appear that those students lining up to attend Unitec’s DVA programme in 2014 are destined to become guinea pigs for a new ‘delivery mode’ which has not yet been proven or validated in New Zealand.
Faculty dean Leon de Wet Fourie told design staff in August that Unitec proposed to disestablish their jobs following a period of consultation.
"The polytechnic plans to replace experienced, trained staff with part-time and itinerant providers from industry. Unitec is shifting its focus away from educational delivery towards training for industry. The new model will turn most of the remaining 17 staff into managers and make it mandatory that managerial staff “bring into the department between $20-30,000 per year from industry”. The plan will also treat student projects and internships as moneymaking propositions."
TEU national president Lesley Francey says this has big implications for the rest of the country.
"We must not see this model of replacing professional permanent teachers with casualised contractors from industry take hold."
"It's fair to say we are fundamentally repositioning the role of an academic in this space."