Sir Tim Shadbolt slams proposed polytechnic merger as devastating for Invercargill

The mayor of Invercargill has slammed the Government's proposal to merge New Zealand's polytechnics, saying it would be devastating for the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT).

On Wednesday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced the Labour-led Government intended to merge New Zealand's 16 polytechnics in an attempt to strengthen vocational education and attract more students.

"The strong labour market is encouraging young people to move directly into the workforce rather than continue in formal education, when it needs to be smarter and accommodate both," Mr Hipkins said.

Last year, Mr Hipkins told Newshub Nation that polytechnics would likely have to merge or shut down due to low enrolment numbers forcing significant monetary investments from Government. Cabinet papers showed an estimated 80 percent of polytechnics would be making a loss by 2022 on current enrolment figures.

The new proposal suggests the polytechnics be merged into one entity, called the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, which could be responsible for vocational centres with specific focusses, such as agriculture.

But Invercargill mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt has said it would be disastrous for the city's polytechnic, SIT, which he said isn't dealing with any financial strife.

"It will be devastating quite frankly; we are being punished for being successful," he said.

"It will have an impact on international students, and we have travelled all around the world recruiting, also the loss of our assets and our cash reserves."

He said he would fight against the proposal, which is open for public consultation until March 27, and said it wasn't the first battle SIT had faced.

"They tried to take $8 million out of our budget, as they said we didn't need the money whereas other institutions were running at a loss and that was about ten years ago."

Last year, Sir Shadbolt said SIT had also been hit by the Government's fees free programme as it had previously offered a Zero Fees scheme, which had attracted people to the city from outside of Southland.

In response, SIT and Mayor Tim Shadbolt launched accommodation bursaries which include either free shared student apartments or an accommodation payment, regardless of whether they live at home or rent.

Mr Shadbolt isn't the only one not pleased with the potential shakeup, with Garry Fisseden, CEO of The Skills Organisation, saying students will be disadvantaged under the proposed vocational sector reforms.

"Through close relationships with thousands of employers and trainees, ITOs (Industry Training Organisations) have an essential part in bridging the communication gap between industry and learning institutions.

"Employer engagement in industry training is essential to its success - the proposed new model puts this relationship, the responsiveness of training programmes to business needs, and the employment opportunities of thousands of students in jeopardy."

But Mr Hipkins believes polytechnics need to be expanded into new locations with more consistent courses.

He said there will be "more sharing of expertise and best-practice, and more use of online, distance, and blended learning".


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