Guest Post – Localise Control of UCOL

Carl Bates, the National Party candidate for the Whanganui electorate has posted the following on his Facebook Page:

The Whanganui Chronicle recently had a worrying story about the Te Pūkenga UCOL Whanganui campus having axed four courses because of low enrolment numbers. The issues at UCOL are actually worse than that; enrolments this year are down by more than 22%. UCOL’s Whanganui campus was absorbed into Te Pūkenga during 2022, and decisions about the viability of Whanganui are made in Hamilton, where Te Pūkenga is based.

From 2003 to 2007 I served on the UCOL Board. Board meetings rotated around the campuses to ensure that Board members knew what was happening at a local level when they were making decisions. We received advice from locally-based management staff and regularly met with Whanganui stakeholders at a governance level.

I am not prepared to stand by whilst this Whanganui asset is further downgraded. I have consulted with business and civic leaders who are likewise worried about UCOL’s downward trajectory. It’s not that long ago that the Whanganui School of Design, under the leadership of Professor Hazel Gamec was considered to be one of the top ten schools of its kind globally.

Today, I am launching a petition via the National Party website demanding a return to localized control at Te Pūkenga’s Whanganui campus. Labour is ignoring the massively negative impact Te Pūkenga’s centralisation has had, and continues to have, on provincial cities like Whanganui. We must send the Government a strong message; only by showing the Government the overwhelming opposition to their broken reforms can we stop them. But I need your support.

A National government will disestablish Te Pūkenga if we are in Government later this year, returning autonomy and decision-making to individual Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics and their communities. National’s Tertiary Education spokeswoman is Penny Simmonds, who for 23 years was CEO of Southland Institute of Technology, one of the country’s most successful tertiary providers .

Please consider signing this petition, and sharing it within your networks. Let’s send a message to our government that their one-size-fits-all Wellington-knows-best approach to tertiary education is not working, and to demand a return to localised management for UCOL Whanganui.

Last week Te Pūkenga let slip that merging the IT systems of the 16 constituent institutions will cost an eye-watering $295 million over four years, part of an overall request for additional funding totaling $422.6 million over four years. We only know the details of this because the business case was accidentally published online before being taken down.

That prompted Penny Simmonds to say “As the Chief Executive for the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) for 23 years prior to entering parliament in 2020, I know how misguided and inappropriate the establishment of Te Pūkenga has been and the waste of money in doing so has been heart-breaking.”  

Despite opposition from right across the country, then-Education Minister Chris Hipkins pushed on with the Te Pūkenga reform, clearly believing that Labour knows best. But in doing so, he has put vocational education at risk for hundreds of young New Zealanders.

It’s time to push back against Te Pūkenga. Please sign Carl Bates’ petition, and share it with your networks. It’s Whanganui today, but it may be your region under threat tomorrow.

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