New Zealand polytechnics are planning to set up their own national university to ensure the status of their degrees. The Association of Polytechnics is proposing a university specifically to award degree and postgraduate qualifications in the polytechnic sector.
The move was prompted by concern that polytechnic degrees may be perceived as inferior to university degrees, particularly by prospective international students.
Polytechnics have been able to award degrees since 1990 and this year 17 of New Zealand's 25 polytechnics will offer a total of 54 degree programmes, plus a range of specialisations.
In a draft discussion paper, APNZ chairman John Scott says "parity of esteem" is a real issue, and there is mounting pressure in the sector to establish universities to provide credibility.
The paper says there would be a significant impact from any polytechnic becoming a university - competition would increase and compel other institutions to pursue university status, institutions that did not become universities would be perceived as inferior, and the public would perceive polytechnic degrees as inadequate unless the institution was a university.
The shift would put the provision of "traditional" sub-degree education at risk, and there would be concern in the international community about the number of universities a country the size of New Zealand should have.
"By establishing a single entity many of these concerns could be accommodated," the draft says.
A new institution with the working title of the New Zealand University of Technology would have its own council, chancellor and chief executive or vice chancellor. It would award degrees for approved programmes from appropriately accredited polytechnics.
This would establish the link with university status for any polytechnic party to the arrangement, thus minimising the disadvantages to degree-awarding polytechnics that are not large enough to be a university in their own right.
It would also "elevate all polytechnic degrees to university status", while the title of the New Zealand University of Technology "has a very marketable edge", and would give small polytechnics the chance to have their degrees recognised internationally.
Individual polytechnics would not be precluded from becoming universities in their own right.
The initiative follows an application by the Auckland Institute of Technology - New Zealand's largest polytechnic and one which already offers a wide range of degrees - to become a university. The AIT application has placed pressure on other polytechnics, to bring forward plans.
Outgoing vice chancellors' committee chairman Bruce Ross said it was inevitable that some polytechnics would achieve university status: "It is a question of when, not if."