Sunday, August 30, 2009

Plumbing programme to go down the gurgler?

August 30, 2009
In Unison

Unitec is planning to sign a contract with the Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying ITO Ltd which some staff say could end several successful Unitec programmes, and will lead numerous staff to quit.
For about nine years, Unitec has offered its own programmes leading to National Certificates in Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying, which have been developed, moderated and approved according to Unitec policies and the requirements of the Education Act.
New Unitec programmes were approved by the Unitec Academic Board last year to deliver the new qualifications which came into force in January 2009.
The Unitec programmes were requested by the department’s Advisory Committee, and recommended by the Programme Committee. At the same time, both bodies considered a programme being proposed by the Plumbing ITO, and rejected it on educational and practical grounds.
It is claimed by staff members who analysed the ITO programme that it lacked virtually all the characteristics required of a viable programme, with no proper delivery material, and assessments which were incomplete and written at the wrong level.
Despite these concerns, Unitec chief executive Rick Ede says they are negotiating with the ITO but will eventually sign a contact with them, as he says he does not want Unitec to miss out on being part of the national system of plumbing and gasfitting education.
In Unison has spoken to several staff members in the plumbing department, who do not wish to be identified as they say they are now living in a climate of fear. They say they are worried about their jobs, the future of their industry and for the wellbeing of their students.
It is understood about eight staff are considering resigning over this issue.
One staff member described the ITO programme as “completely undeliverable and substandard and not fit for purpose in all respects.”
He says it is written at a level far lower than it should be, and the assessments cut out about 80 percent of what should be tested, he believes it is designed so it is almost impossible to fail.
The Unitec programme for the National Certificate in Plumbing and Gasfitting requires the completion of distance learning over four years, linked to a series of two week block courses where theory is integrated into the practical skills. There are a total of 22 weeks of block courses over the 4 year programme.
This contrasts with only 11 weeks of block courses in the ITO programme.
Plumbing Head of Department, Garry Cruickshank, has been suspended and faces dismissal following a complaint from lawyers acting for the ITO, regarding letters sent by Mr Cruickshank advising students and their employers to carefully consider the merits of both programmes before deciding which one to enrol in.
Other staff members in the faculty have also expressed serious concern at the developments, as almost all the trade programmes run at Unitec fall into the same category of local qualifications as the plumbing programmes, including the Certificate of Applied Technology, which is the single largest programme at Unitec.
It is feared that if the same policy is used in their own departments, it will lead to redundancies and a general lowering of standards.
A letter sent by Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics Quality to Unitec regarding courses and programmes offered by ITOs confirms that they are not able to have courses and programmes approved, and that only programmes offered through providers like Unitec are able to be approved, and courses offered by ITOs are not eligible for funding.
Staff say if this move is allowed Unitec stands to lose the programmes already set up and will lose up to 250 EFTS making the department unviable. It will also lower the student to staff ratio, currently at 24-1, the best in Unitec, down to 11-1, which will also mean losing a third of the staff.
“If Unitec ends up agreeing to that process then the entire basis of UATI collapse,” a staff member says. Dr Ede says concerned staff need to “take a deep breath” and work with the deans and himself over what they are trying to achieve. He says Unitec “cannot afford to be left out in the cold” over this issue, and believes the concerns over the ITO are not justified.