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First National Student Rep from PTEs Making a Difference

Michael Coxon, a student at the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute, is the first PTE student representative at the national level and has found the role challenging but worthwhile.

The Tertiary Education Commission established a Learners� Advisory Committee in 2004 to provide consultation between government and student representatives on the implementation of tertiary education reforms. Michael was asked to apply to be on the Committee by the Acting Dean of the Bethlehem Training Institute, who had responded to ITI's call for members to pass on the TEC's invitation to students.

�Always one for taking on a challenge,� Michael agreed to take the role, fitting it around his full time study and two part-time jobs. �It�s hard work, but it�s been an incredible experience.�

As the sole PTE representative on the Committee, Michael found that initially there was some resistance to his placement: �At first I did personally feel quite isolated, but over the last year people have grown to accept it. I think partially my agenda will always differ from others there� it has to, but it�s my role to put pressure out there, to be gently assertive, to sit in those meetings and represent students at PTEs to the best of my ability.�

The others in the group are from universities and polytechnics, and Michael says that their focus is often on free education. �I�ve been in the workforce for 8 years, and studying for 6, and I think that I sometimes have a broader view. I�ve suggested that it might not be in the Government�s best interest to offer free education as there is more than just the students involved, but they seem to have trouble letting go of that issue.�

But the biggest problem Michael faces is the difficulty of representing the private tertiary sector as a whole. There are about 800 PTEs, "but there are virtually no students' associations, so the access to those learners doesn�t actually exist. The private sector has the whole spectrum from the institutions that belong to ITI, who represent what I think is the cutting edge of the private training sector, to smaller community institutions that may not even have government funding, but I feel distant from those smaller groups. So, my biggest difficulty is how do I communicate with them, how do I represent them when I don�t even know who they are?�

Michael has explored the idea of setting up a website, or some kind of forum for PTEs, �but I don�t even know where to start with it. I�ve had incredible feedback and support for the idea, but I don�t have the time or the funding for it.� ITI is looking at ways that we can support Michael to get in touch with other PTE students.

Despite the challenges, Michael thinks that the Committee is a success. �What has blown me away about the group is that we are being listened to. We are being given the opportunity to speak out and to implement change. It�s amazing to present changes to the proposed policies and see those changes being made.� The TEC has really gone out on a limb; they�re not doing this just to look good -�it is actually working� Even though most people in New Zealand won�t know who I am or what I do, I believe that I am doing a good job, and that we are making a difference.�

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