Mount Hutt College's Outdoor Pursuits Course axed

By Myles Hume of the Ashburton Guardian

The axe has come down on Mount Hutt College's landmark Outdoor Pursuits Course.

A drought of applicants has seen the 15-year-old course cancelled for 2013 in what was one of the college's biggest draw cards for new pupils in recent years.

It has come as a shock to the college, which had 12 pupils enrolled for the $19,200-course this year, but had an underwhelming response for 2013, leaving the school with no choice but to pull the plug.

The course was one of three within the South Island which allowed year 12 and 13 pupils from all over the country to live in an off-campus residential accommodation in their last year of school, taking part in adventure sports such as rock climbing, skiing, surfing and tramping to develop their life skills.

The pupils' accommodation in Methven would be rented out to new tenants next year, and the instructors were already moving on so no jobs will be cut.

Mount Hutt College principal John Schreurs said it was a shame to cut the course, however he said it was important to point out the Outdoor Education Course, which is separate, would remain.

"Yes (it is a shame), it's part of the school fabric and it brings students into our community," Mr Schreurs said.

He planned to run the course if there was vested interest by at least six pupils for 2013, but he said it "did not quite reach that number".

Former principal Don McLeod, who was head of the school when the course was introduced in the mid-1990s, said he sympathised with the college who would have had to have made "a tough decision" to let it go.

"We could have been making that decision eight or nine years ago, so I understand," Mr McLeod said.

Mr Schreurs struggled to pin point why there was a lack of interest, instead he put it down to a mix of tough economic times, competition from other schools running similar courses and changes in the way people viewed education.

He hoped to lure students back in 2014, who would have to go to Cromwell College or Wanaka's Mount Aspiring College to do similar courses next year, but he acknowledged the college would have lost momentum by then.

"We didn't want to lose momentum so the board agreed running it at six, but that is not really sustainable and it didn't happen," he said.

He said the board of trustees would review the programme and come up with ways to get the course back on track.

Mr McLeod said when the course ran under his reign the college used "carefully planned" marketing techniques, visiting cities throughout New Zealand to lure pupils to the college.

He said that was still most likely the case today, but it was beyond the college's control to attract high numbers each year.

"It will be sad that it can't run for 12 months, but I'm optimistic it is just a glitch.

"I think it's only part of the identity of the school, it's a pity that it's lost but it's not the be all and end all."

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