She cut the ribbon to open the Whanganui UCOL campus a decade ago and former Prime Minister Helen Clark was there again to cut the cake for the organisation’s 10th birthday.
The former Prime Minister was the keynote speaker at a dinner marking the 10th anniversary last Friday night.
Speaking to an audience of about 120 people, Clark was all smiles and full of praise for UCOL’s financial stability at a time when polytechnics were struggling. UCOL was one of just four polytechnics in the country to post a surplus for 2017.
Clark opened the UCOL campus in 2008 and said despite concerns Whanganui would lose a lot of its tertiary education, it had proved to be the right call.
“What is in effect a merger is never an easy thing, right? You had the polytechnic here, there was the polytechnic in Palmerston North. I’m sure I remember conversations … as to ‘How is this going to go down?’
“But the more you think about it, the more farsighted it was. And when you see the performance of UCOL as against other polytechnics around New Zealand, many of whom are in very considerable financial difficulty, you’d have to say UCOL’s got a lot to be proud of.
“Full marks to those in Whanganui who saw the point of it [the merger with Palmerston North] happening because it’s not always easy to get something like that accepted. People say ‘Oh, we’re losing our polytechnic’. Well, actually you might have lost everything if it hadn’t happened and you’ve got a thriving campus, so congratulations.”
She said UCOL was doing exactly what technical institutes and polytechnics were created to do – to meet regional labour market needs.
“It’s what you’re doing! I understand for example the placement from the nursing school here … so many of your graduates get jobs in this local area.
“The arts design fashion courses were very, very highly regarded here always and drew students from all over New Zealand.”
After Clark arrived in Whanganui she was taken on a tour of the city and remarked on the innovation of the International Commercial Pilot Academy next to the airport.
Clark also shared stories from her time at the United Nations and spoke about her continued interests in climate change, drug policy, the obesity crisis and wildlife conservation.
The speeches were opened and closed by UCOL’s campus manager, Bronwyn Paul.
UCOL chief executive Leeza Boyce gave a brief speech about the successes the polytechnic had had working with the community. UCOL’s council chairman, Ben Vanderkolk, said UCOL graduates were using the knowledge they learned there and he was proud of the surplus the organisation had posted.
Iwi leader Ken Mair spoke as well and was a speaker when the campus opened in 2008.
Mair said UCOL had provided “some fantastic opportunities for this community” in employment and education.
He also told the story of how he almost didn’t make it to UCOL’s opening.
“Sir Archie Taiaroa, I was in Wellington with him. Something cropped up … he said ‘Ken, they’re opening up UCOL, Helen’s going to be speaking there and I can’t be there, could you go? I said ‘It’s my oath I can go’.
“I drove back quickly … had a little bit of an event … I drove straight over the fence into the river. This is all about a quarter of an hour before [the opening].
“Brushed myself off, climbed up the bank, rang the tow truck and … I got here and my kaumatua at the time thought it was wonderful. I have to say today it’s a little bit more calmer.”
He said UCOL was one of the first instutitions to spell Whanganui correctly and acknowledged the organisation’s leaders of the time.