James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

New chief at 'the Wa' eyes big shakeup

Jim Mather says what has served well in the past may not do so well into the future.

Te Wananga o Aotearoa chief Jim Mather says the institution needs to be a lot more innovative. Photo / Greg Bowker
Te Wananga o Aotearoa chief Jim Mather says the institution needs to be a lot more innovative. Photo / Greg Bowker

New Te Wananga o Aotearoa boss Jim Mather has big plans for the tertiary organisation he took the helm of in October.

The ex-top-soldier and accountant has begun a radical overhaul of the country's third-largest tertiary institution.

The former chief executive at Maori Television now has the top job at "the Wa" and has a clear vision of where he sees the institution progressing to by decade's end.

And plans are already in motion.

Mr Mather has launched a comprehensive organisational overhaul - starting at the top - with advertisements going out for a deputy chief executive and seven senior executives. Existing executive members have been asked to re-apply.

It's a decision that wasn't taken easily but Mr Mather, who last year completed a PhD in Maori development, denies coming to the organisation with any preconceived ideas.

Within two weeks of arriving he called a meeting of wananga executive directors and turned their focus on to where things needed to change.

"It became very obvious there were so many big areas of opportunities to fulfil but we would have to make some very big changes," he said.

"I had an instinctive view that it could do a lot more than it had done having been in Maori media and observed its progress.

"It wasn't until I arrived and talked to the leadership and others that the realisation dawned that the level of change was probably unprecedented in the history of TWOA."

He took the reins at Te Wananga o Aotearoa from previous chief Bentham Ohia, who spent years consolidating the wananga following the fallout from the high-profile departure of controversial inaugural boss Rongo Wetere in 2005.

Under Mr Ohia the education provider did well, putting its head down and avoiding the negative press that had plagued it, gaining consistent multi-million dollar surpluses.

The institution's roll is steady at almost 32,000 after the Government capped student numbers. The wananga has some of the highest completion rates (81 per cent), qualification completion rates (81 per cent) and retention rates (75 per cent) in the country.

"We have had seven straight years of surpluses so we are not doing this on the back of a defensive situation," the new man in charge said.

"We are basically saying that we are in a really strong position and we are doing well but our collective belief is we can do much better. We also recognise that we need to say that what has served us well to date is probably not going to continue serving us well into the future."

The wananga offers courses in Te Reo Maori, information technology, small business, Maori development, social services, marine and freshwater studies, English for speakers of other languages and performing arts among many others. It offers qualifications from certificate to degree level at more than 80 locations throughout the country.

Mr Mather said the institution needed to be more innovative and more focused on what industry wants its graduates to have.

This means stronger e-learning capabilities, a stronger social media presence and more resources available to students online.

The wananga also wants to expand its income streams, reducing a reliance on government funding, which was almost 90 per cent of the $154 million generated last year.

"That will mean seeking out new income streams, corporate training and increasing our number of fee-paying international students for example," Mr Mather said.

"We are one of the country's largest educational institutions, it all comes down to having the right leadership, the right plan and the right structure to be successful and the consensus has been reached that we can and will do much more."

New broom
*Te Wananga o Aotearoa is the country's third-biggest tertiary institution.
*It has 32,000 students nationwide.
*Its chief executive is Jim Mather (Ngati Awa, Ngai Tuhoe).
*Mr Mather is leading an overhaul of the institution seeking a new deputy chief executive and seven senior executives.
*Its students have qualification completion rates of 81 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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