Despite all the hoopla about how well Hawke's Bay is doing these days there are still some serious shortcomings that need to be addressed.

The latest ASB Main Report gave us 4 stars out of a possible 5, but most of the economic and demographic ratings actually placed us near the bottom of the 16 regions including fourth from bottom in population growth ahead of Taranaki, Marlborough West Coast and Southland, and third from bottom for employment growth.

Where we fail spectacularly is getting our share of government spending. No major government departments, no military bases and serious underspending on tertiary education.

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We are the largest urban area in the country without a university campus. Jacinda Ardern's promise of fee-free study will actually disadvantage Hawke's Bay students who need to study elsewhere because they must still pay for their living expenses unlike those from university cities who are able to live at home.

We do have the EIT offering level 7 qualifications including some degree courses but it is not enough. Not nearly enough. With just 12 per cent of Hawke's Bay people holding bachelor degrees or level 7 qualifications we are way behind Wellington on 25 per cent, Auckland 22 per cent, Otago 18 per cent and Canterbury 16 per cent. We are even behind the Waikato (14 per cent) and Manawatu/Whanganui (13 per cent). We do however scrape ahead of Northland, Taranaki, Gisborne, Marlborough and Southland all on 11 per cent, and the South Island West Coast at under 9 per cent.

So who cares? Well, there is clear evidence that the higher the educational attainment the greater the earning potential and lower the likelihood of being unemployed. The 2013 census also revealed the following relationship between qualifications and income for people over 15 years.

•$19,400 with no qualifications
•$25 500 for people with level 1 certificate
•$37 400 for people with level 5 or 7 diploma
•$46 700 for people with bachelor's degree or level 7 qualification
•$56 100 for people with post graduate and honours degrees
•$58 300 for people with masters degree
•$83 600 for people with doctorate degree.

Of course, higher education is not the only path to skills and knowledge but, for many, education will have a huge impact on their success in the workplace and how much they earn.

Formal qualifications also provide evidence of specific skills and an ability to learn.

Universities are a huge drivers of economic activity in their own right, employing thousands of well-paid, highly qualified people and injecting millions of dollars into local economies. Dunedin estimates Otago University contributes $0.75 billion.

There are eight recognised universities in New Zealand, Auckland, Waikato, Massey, Victoria, Canterbury and Otago, Lincoln, and AUT and several such as Massey have multiple campuses. Presumably the new Tauranga campus will remain part of Waikato University.

In total the Government spends over $4.3 billion supporting tertiary education. Student fees, research funding and other sources of income more than double this. Currently Hawke's Bay is seriously missing out on this spending.

There are over 400 000 tertiary students, nationwide and nearly 50 per cent attend universities. In theory, on a pro rata population basis, we should have about 8000 polytechnic students plus a further 8000 university student, but interestingly the EIT has just over 3000 fulltime equivalent students.

This discrepancy may be partly explained by many of our young choosing to study elsewhere but the reality is nearly a quarter of our population have no qualifications, compared to less than 15 per cent for Wellington and Auckland.

Successive governments have been under providing and underfunding Hawke's Bay tertiary education. They have been assisted by our civic leaders who appear besotted by high-visibility monuments rather than prioritising the things that will make a real difference to our economy and wellbeing.

In my time on an EIT Industry advisory committee we were not permitted to advertise our courses in other parts of the country yet universities were free to promote their offerings here. This restriction may no longer exist but it is a clear example of how government policy has disadvantaged Hawke's Bay.

Education may not be a core council responsibility but who else will push this issue if local government doesn't?

As one of the candidates standing for mayor in the approaching Hastings elections I will be making this a key policy issue.

Simon Nixon is a candidate for Hastings mayor in the upcoming by-election. He is currently acting Deputy Mayor of Hastings. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz