Should Lincoln and Canterbury merge

The Press editorial:

What is the end game for ? The Press has reported that some drastic measures are being seriously considered by the cash-strapped university. Lincoln may sell some of its thousands of hectares of farmland, drop some courses and seek private investment following earlier, highly unpopular attempts to balance the books. 

Lincoln was restructured in 2013 and 2014 when more than 100 jobs were axed. Maybe the old adage that no business ever cut its way to growth proved true because, two years later, Lincoln still has to dig itself out of a $6 million financial hole. Like other tertiary institutions, Lincoln’s student numbers were hit hard by the Canterbury earthquakes but it does not have the size or financial resilience to endure the shocks forever. 

Measures much more drastic than selling assets or courting private enterprise are being considered. A report outlining possible futures was delivered to Lincoln last month and vice-chancellor Professor Robin Pollard has said options include closure or merger. Closure would be “disastrous”, Pollard told The Press. 

But a merger? That has promise. The most natural partner is the University of Canterbury. Would it make sense to run Lincoln as a satellite campus of Canterbury? As in any merger, there are duplications to consider. A layer of management would be removed and other infrastructure costs would be saved. In 2014, there were approximately 2300 full-time equivalent students on the Lincoln campus. This would make it a smaller college than Canterbury’s colleges of Arts, Business and Law, Engineering and Science were in 2015. 

A merger with Canterbury would make sense for historical as well as geographic reasons. Lincoln started as a school of agriculture and, from 1961 to 1990, it was a constituent college of the University of Canterbury, known as Lincoln College. It achieved its independent university status only 26 years ago, within a period of intense, growing competition between tertiary providers. An institution with “university” in its name was immediately more attractive to students shopping around in education’s free market.

I was at Otago University when Lincoln was still a College and about to become a University.

I think the reality is that under 3,000 students is not big enough to be a stand alone university, even a specialist one. The economies of scale are significant.

By a comparison, here are the EFTS counts for the eight NZ universities:

  1. Auckland 33,500
  2. AUT 19,800
  3. Massey 18,700
  4. Otagi 18,400
  5. VUW 17,000
  6. Canterbury 11,900
  7. Waikato 10,000
  8. Lincoln 2,900

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