CPIT's Information Design Course Closes

July 2015

The Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) has offered the Graduate Diploma of Information Design (GDID) since 2003, and other online technical communication qualifications since 1995. During that time, these programmes have produced many quality graduates, over 95% of whom have gone on to have successful careers in technical communication and related roles. In June 2015, CPIT stopped taking new enrolments - students who were already enrolled have until 2018 to complete their papers.

We asked CPIT’s Bruce Russell to tell us more about why the programme has been withdrawn, and whether there is a future for technical communication training at CPIT.

The GDID has been a successful course. Why has CPIT stopped taking enrolments now?

In a nutshell, the GDID has been much more successful for students and the industry than it has been for CPIT. The programme has been identified as one of the ‘least financially viable’ offered by this institution, since at least 2007. As the programme leader, and latterly the manager mainly responsible, I have struggled with trying to reconcile what CPIT management thought were the risks and benefits of the programme, versus the somewhat different perceptions of stakeholders. The low staff to student ratios that enabled success, have also spelled a warning to management. In part, that is the answer to the question: ‘why has CPIT been alone in the Australasian education market in delivering such an essential skillset online?’ To paraphrase the 1992 Clinton Campaign: ‘It’s the economics, stupid’.

The other issue related to our niche market is that we have not been able to update the delivery, content and structure of the programme when we needed to, because we have not had enough staff. And of course, while under an endless financial cloud, it has been hard to justify more investment. My hope is that by ceasing delivery of the current programme (at a time when unacceptable staff redundancies are not a risk), I can initiate a dialogue between industry and CPIT about the needs of all the stakeholders, and what exactly ‘success’ in online niche delivery will look like. To be quite honest, this was hard to do while running a business-as-usual model. The kind of dialogue we need can only be had in response to a degree of emergency.

Do you believe there is still strong demand in NZ and elsewhere for information design graduates?

More than ever. Managing information and designing communication is increasingly critical to every commercial and public enterprise; the inexorable advance of the internet to the centre of everything shows the overarching logic of this in the twenty-first century economy. Increasingly that economy is driven by information, not production, which is why this is often referred to as the ‘post-industrial era’.

It may be that the specific mix of skills that needs to be taught will vary (which is something we will be looking at as we consider what a new qualification will look like), and it may be that we will need to teach those skills in a different way. However I do believe that someone needs to teach the skills associated with information design and professional communication, especially as journalism decays into ‘social media management’ and PR continues to follow it down. And as CPIT has current experience in doing this, nothing in this recent decision at CPIT should be taken to imply that we do not value the area of endeavour encompassed by the name ‘information design’; merely that we are looking seriously at how best we might meet the needs of learners in that area.

What’s the timeframe and next steps for CPIT?

We are ‘teaching out’ the current programme till 2017/18. I think we need to start talking now with TechCommNZ and employer representatives, about the future shape of a new qualification. The ongoing self-evaluation reviews of the current programme will serve as a baseline. We will need to secure a mandate from CPIT to move forward because they will need to invest in staff capability to do this. They in turn may need to reconsider some of the ‘one size fits all’ metrics that have hitherto measured success in all programmes, regardless of the delivery mode, because the skills that industry expects from such a qualification are not cheap to teach – that much we know. A new programme usually takes roughly a year to get designed and approved, so it is possible to imagine a new programme starting in late 2017. However, nothing I can say constitutes an undertaking on that point, and everyone has some ’hard yards’ to do before we get there.