University records this year have shown that enrolments for tertiary teaching programmes have dropped significantly. Additionally, proposed cuts to Victoria University’s offerings include the entirety of the teaching programme, sparking fears that Wellington will be hit hard by the predicted teacher shortage.
Universities across the motu have reported 600 fewer primary teaching students and about 65 fewer secondary teaching students than 2022. Waikato University pro-vice chancellor and Chair of the Council of Deans of Education Don Klinger said this wasn’t necessarily foreshadowing a staffing crisis, but rather reflected an abating of the surge of enrolments that occurred around COVID-19. During the pandemic, Klinger said that the surge in teaching programme enrolments reflected a desire for high-security jobs.
“The students that we’re getting now, they have a really high level of passion… No matter what happens, this is what they want to do, so I think we’re capturing that group of students,” said Klinger. Although Waikato University reported an increase in secondary teaching students, it was the only university to do so, and Klinger is not convinced the numbers are enough.
“We’re still seeing massive shortages in the secondary sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, Māori-medium and Māori language is always a challenge. So we’re still seeing pockets of shortages in different places.”
Meanwhile, Victoria University is facing controversy and criticism around its proposal to cut its one-year programme for aspiring secondary teachers at the end of the year. The proposal is part of a larger plan to axe 229 equivalent full-time jobs and entire subjects to address a $33 million deficit.
Klinger said that while Victoria University’s proposal was unexpected, it wasn’t surprising given the state of university funding.
“We all expected at some time somebody would make that decision,” he said. He also described secondary teacher education as “a very expensive programme to run”.
Klinger notes that government funding and student fees don’t cover the cost of secondary programmes, especially in specialist areas with low enrolment like physics and Māori medium. Most universities rely on other teaching programmes to subsidise the cost of running secondary programmes, said Klinger, but falling enrolments are exacerbating the funding shortfall.
Minister of Education Jan Tinetti said that the government is “looking at how we are training teachers in this country”, and said there were “other discussions” going on. Although they had considered options such as extra funding, Tinetti said that organisations had to deal with rising costs.
With Victoria University’s announcement, Wellington’s representative for PPTA Te Wehengarua, Naenae College principal Nic Richards, said the region was likely to be hard hit by the teacher shortage.
“We’re in a crisis of shortage so it will worsen that,” said Richards. He described filling roles with New Zealand teachers as almost impossible, with the last advertised vacancy at his college attracting 17 applicants – all from overseas.
Victoria University is currently facing protests and sustained media attention over its proposed cuts. The university has stated a final decision will be made on 14 August.