Regional polytechs facing underfunding - Labour

By Laurel Stowell -
MP Grant Robertson says National had cut $80 million from polytechs in the last two budgets. Photo / Northern Advocate
MP Grant Robertson says National had cut $80 million from polytechs in the last two budgets. Photo / Northern Advocate

Regional polytechnics are important to their communities, and the National-led government is underfunding them, two Labour politicians say.

MPs Grant Robertson and Andrew Little were in Wanganui yesterday to reaffirm their commitment to strong regional polytechnics.

Mr Robertson, the party deputy leader and former spokesperson on tertiary education, said there was a very specific set of issues about the future of UCOL in Wanganui. It was underfunded and Labour would not have made the budget cuts that put it in its present position.

He said National had cut $80 million from polytechs in the last two budgets. In 2011 it cut $50 million that Labour had earmarked specifically for regional polytechs, to make sure they didn't suffer from having small population bases.

The two men are on a tour of regional cities with a Save Our Polytechs campaign, "because we believe it's at that level".

It was good that Wanganui District Council and UCOL had a joint taskforce, because it showed the community supported UCOL. That message needed to get through to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Stephen Joyce, Mr Robertson said.

Mr Joyce appoints four members of the council governing UCOL, including the chairman. Those four then appoint another four. There is no requirement for staff, students or the community on the council.

Mr Joyce needed to talk to the UCOL council and make sure it understood the seriousness of the present situation, Mr Robertson said.

He and Mr Little talked to the Whanganui Employers' Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning.

"They absolutely get the importance of the polytech and they would be alarmed at any decline and demise."

They also talked to Whanganui UCOL students, and were to meet UCOL's associate dean of vocational programmes, Tim Snape, during the afternoon.

Fine arts and glass students were especially concerned about the funding cuts, because intakes to their courses have been "paused".

"In my experience, if somebody pauses enrolments you should be very worried."

Arts and glass were part of Wanganui's unique identity and should instead be promoted, Mr Robertson said.

Wanganui was hurting from the loss of government jobs at the Conservation Department and New Zealand Transport Agency. Then there was the partial closure of Marton Court and the diversion of roads funding to "roads of national significance". New Zealand's regions were feeling forgotten by the government, Mr Robertson said.

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