By Simon Collins
The Government has announced a $65 million bailout for struggling Unitec and Whitireia polytechnics and a likely takeover of Whitireia and the Wellington Institute of Technology (Weltec) by a state-appointed commissioner.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins visited Unitec at Mt Albert today to announce a $50m loan for Unitec and a $15m capital injection for Porirua-based Whitireia.
Whitireia is already jointly governed with Weltec, but Hipkins said both Wellington institutes were struggling financially and he had decided to consult on dissolving their joint council and appointing a commissioner.
“Like the Auckland-based Unitec, Porirua-based Whitireia is in extreme financial difficulty and approached the Government for urgent financial assistance,” he said.
“Weltec’s financial position is also not strong, and this risk, combined with the close links between the two institutions, means the best option is likely to replace the combined council with a commissioner to oversee both institutions.”
Unitec’s council was replaced last month by a commissioner, Murray Strong, who has also been appointed Crown manager of another troubled polytechnic, Greymouth-based Tai Poutini.
Hipkins said an independent financial adviser was appointed to Whitireia last month.
“Whitireia will require $15m in 2018 to meet its cash shortfall and operating costs. Further support may be required in 2019 unless urgent action is taken,” he said.
“Current students can be assured that they can complete their courses and future students should have the confidence to enrol.”
He said that while Unitec and Whitireia both have unique issues, they are not alone in facing the effects of falling student numbers.
“This situation shows the absolute need for the work now being done under the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics Roadmap 2020 to secure a viable future for the institutes of technology and polytechnics sector across New Zealand,” he said.
“We need a strong polytechnic sector that delivers what New Zealand’s learners and employers need from it in a rapidly changing world, and at an affordable cost to taxpayers.”