Agri-college ordered to repay $7.5M

  • 08/09/2015

The country's tertiary education funding body is urging any institution with doubts about their obligations to come forward after an agricultural college raked in $7.5 million for teaching it wasn't doing.

Wairarapa-based Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre has been ordered to repay the money to the Tertiary Education Commission after an independent investigation showed it had not delivered several education programmes between 2009 and 2014.

In August last year an anonymous tip-off said tutors at Taratahi had been enrolled in a course to make up for a shortfall in numbers.

It was discovered Taratahi enrolled 67 staff in an entry-level programme and claimed funding when little or no teaching took place, the commission said.

It also significantly under-delivered teaching hours for four programmes and claimed excess funding for students studying general farm skills.

"The funding rules are very clear, and tertiary education providers know them well," said commission chief executive Tim Fowler.

"If providers are delivering less education than they are being funded for, as Taratahi has done, we will seek repayment."

If any other tertiary providers have concerns, they should contact the commission immediately, he said.

The Serious Fraud Office is also investigating Taratahi but the situation has not compromised the qualifications issued to its students.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority says there is no concern with the centre's assessments and it is allowed to continue enrolling students in approved programmes.

Taratahi's chief executive Donovan Wearing, 52, died in January.

Interim chief executive Linda Sissons says the centre investigated itself and found proper process hadn't been followed when the 67 tutors were enrolled as students in a programme.

"Someone should have realised we were not fully compliant and fixed it," she said in a statement.