Every week young people come into our shop looking for work. Sadly we have to turn them away. Since 2008 the number of young people in Rotorua on the unemployment benefit has more than tripled. It can be heartbreaking to hear people talking of losing hope after so many failed attempts to get a job.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett last week said while times were tough, people could find jobs if they try. This sounds like the words of a Government quickly losing its grip on reality. There are just not as many jobs as people looking for them. National unemployment is now at its highest level since 1999.
This is a problem for the people and businesses of Rotorua. The difficulties related to high unemployment among young people are well documented: lost futures, social disconnection, crime and the drag on the economy. Critical to solving this problem is education. It not only opens more doors but also creates a more productive economy that in turn creates more jobs to give other people a chance. This is why Waiariki Institute of Technology is such an important pillar of the community and an engine of job creation in Rotorua.
Unfortunately, the 2012 Budget changed the way the Government funds foundation-level tertiary education. One third of the national budget, or $38 million, is being put up for tender from the private sector, neglecting time-honoured and established institutions such as Waiariki. Around the country this has already meant $11 million lost to public polytechnics, approximately 26 courses closed and the loss of about 2000 student places. The Tertiary Education Union predicts that in addition to this, up to 96 jobs could be lost.
Here in Rotorua, Waiariki has lost about $800,000 in funding for foundation-level classes. That is a lot of money that could have gone to teachers and students and is not something our cash-strapped educational institutions can afford to lose.
Instead, this money is going to private, for-profit institutions and is privatisation via another name. This is ideology at its worst because it's gambling with the futures of our young people. The Government has its blinkers on and believes private education is always best. Experience however shows it is not, especially in this form. The result of this funding move will be tighter budgets and fewer opportunities. Quality will suffer as ``value for money'' takes centre stage.
Our young people need real opportunities and not just ideologically driven, blinkered policy. Before the results have even come out, Steven Joyce has talked about expanding the privatisation project. There is a place for private tertiary education in New Zealand, but not if it means hurting the polytechnics that support the most vulnerable New Zealanders.
For many in Rotorua this will be seen as another blow to the city. Our young people are our future and they deserve our support. Our city depends on it.
_ Guest columnist Fraser Newman is the manager of McLeods Booksellers, Rotorua.