By: Peter de Graaf
A major restructuring by Northland’s biggest tertiary education provider could axe dozens of jobs axed and close Rawene and Kerikeri campuses as it faces a $4.5 million loss.
NorthTec told staff of the proposal, which includes scrapping courses in visual arts, sport and recreation, tourism, business administration, computing and foundation studies, on Friday.
The plans have been slammed by union officials and community leaders in Rawene, which will lose its NorthTec campus.
NorthTec spokesman Peter Heath said courses, which did not have enough demand, were not financially viable under current funding, or were not leading to jobs for students.
NorthTec did not intend to sell off or permanently shut down its Rawene and Kerikeri campuses but proposed “resting” the facilities, giving the organisation time to explore options for making them viable. The Rawene site had been “rested” once before, Mr Heath said.
About 75 jobs would be cut across Northland under the proposal while 39 new positions would be created.
In a document sent to staff called The Case for Change, NorthTec said its financial situation was getting worse despite increasing student numbers.
It was supposed to make a 3 per cent surplus each year to pay for building upgrades; instead it expected to make a $4.5 million loss this year.
The document also said NorthTec had 46 more academic staff members than the average for regional polytechnics. It employs 476 permanent, fixed and casual staff, of whom 259 are academic.
NorthTec is taking submissions on the proposal until November 27 and is due to make a final decision on December 6.
If the proposal goes ahead in its current form, the Kerikeri and Rawene campuses would stay open until students there had completed their courses. There would be no new student intakes while the campuses were “rested” but transport to other sites would be considered.
Seven staff and 67 students at the Kerikeri campus would be affected along with seven staff and 29 students at Rawene. Some staff might be able to transfer to other campuses.
NorthTec’s learning centres at Kaikohe and Kaitaia would stay open.
The proposal has alarmed, among others, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) and residents of Rawene, where the NorthTec campus has long been a mainstay of the town.
TEU national president Sandra Grey said the proposed cuts were the result of years of underfunding and government policies that made tertiary education vulnerable to short-term market trends.
“National’s approach to funding tertiary education was to allow the market a much greater say in what courses should be provided locally, rather than the communities themselves,” she said.
Ms Grey said the union had requested an urgent meeting with new Education Minister Chris Hipkins and was calling for an injection of short-term funding to protect jobs and buy time to plan for NorthTec’s future.
She said the TEU had been buoyed by the new Government’s vision for education, prioritising learning over profit, and NorthTec was a chance to put it into practice straight away. The union believed up to 50 staff could lose their jobs because NorthTec was not committing to placing current staff in the new positions.
Louis Toorenburg, a South Hokianga representative on the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board, said closing the Rawene campus would be “a huge loss” for the area.
“We can’t afford to lose this facility. It has created a huge number of opportunities for our people in an economically deprived area.”
The issue would be discussed at today’s community board meeting in Broadwood, he said.
Janine McVeagh, who taught at NorthTec in Rawene for 20 years and is the secretary of the Hokianga Community Education Trust, said it was not just jobs at stake but the ability of Hokianga residents to raise their skills in future.
“If the Government is serious about education being accessible in low-income areas like this, then it has to be subsidised. Education is too important to be left to the market.”
Mr Heath said NorthTec recognised the proposal was upsetting for staff, and acknowledged their work for students and the organisation, in some cases over many years.
Mr Hipkins could not be contacted for comment at edition time.
Applied arts courses were scrapped at Rawene in 2014 with students on the three-year bachelor’s programme travelling to Kerikeri to complete their degrees. Since then the Kerikeri applied arts course has also been canned.
Courses in construction, trade painting, computing and social services are currently taught at Rawene. Kerikeri offers the same plus bee-keeping, agribusiness management, foundation studies and eco-tourism.
Source: Northern Advocate