Old activists clash over tertiary cash

By Andrew Koubaridis

Veteran activist John Minto has blasted Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt's campaign against changes to tertiary education funding, labelling it "narrow parochialism", while Mr Shadbolt says Mr Minto has simply swallowed Government propaganda.

Mr Shadbolt has been outspoken in his criticism of the Government's plan to scrap the so-called "bums on seats" funding where courses got more money based on their enrolments.

The new policy comes into effect this year and will see tertiary institutes consult the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) on what courses it provides, with the aim of reducing the duplication of services in some areas.

The funding plans would be set for three years.

Mr Minto, the national spokesman for the Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC), said the courses the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) ran in Christchurch were available through the local polytech, creating a "pointless and wasteful turf war".

"This adds nothing to education but the false notion of choice based on glossy brochures. The focus for SIT should be to provide the highest-quality education to all students in its local area rather than to pick the low-hanging fruit elsewhere."

While he could sympathise with a mayor defending his patch, he urged Mr Shadbolt to open his eyes and look at the broader picture for all students.

He accused SIT of "thumbing its nose" at the policy and hoping it would go away.

"Narrow parochialism has a limited place in education and it would be a tragedy for all young New Zealanders, including those from Southland, if Mayor Shadbolt's campaign to undermine the new funding mechanism is successful."

Mr Shadbolt told the Herald the changes would hurt SIT's unique sit2learn courses that were offered nationally.

"He [Mr Minto] shouldn't have just swallowed the propaganda the Government was running and checked his facts before making a stand. It's not just me that's fighting for my patch. There are kids in South Auckland who will miss out [if the courses are dropped]."

He said the sit2learn courses that use TV and computers as teaching tools had been successful with those who had difficulty in traditional classrooms.

"A lot of street kids find paperwork off-putting. They're more comfortable with computers and TV and areprepared to have a go."

He rejected any suggestion SIT was running "bums on seats" courses and pointed to its Canterbury campus.

"They call it bums on seats but I call it tools in hand ... in Canterbury they're really practical courses."

However, those courses would be hurt by the new policy because they crossed the boundaries, he said.

Last month the TEC said it had not approved funding for SIT to deliver education and training in Christchurch this year that was already provided by local education providers.

Chief executive Janice Shiner said there was room for other organisations where they had particular expertise or collaborated with local providers to ensure the best outcomes for students, but the Government wanted to avoid duplication in areas of study.

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