By John Gerritsen of RNZ

The Tertiary Education Commission wants to slash Government spending on tourism and retail courses by as much as 30 per cent next year.

The proposed $6 million cut to subsidised student enrolments is based on forecasts that both sectors will contract next year and Careers New Zealand is telling jobseekers their prospects in the tourism sector are poor.

Tourism education providers contacted by RNZ would not comment on the proposed reductions, but the peak body for the wider tourism sector, Tourism Industry Aotearoa, criticised the plan as short-sighted.

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The commission's deputy chief executive, Gillian Dudgeon, said the cuts would affect only courses from certificate to diploma level (levels 1-6). Degree and postgraduate courses were not affected.

"These courses tend to be shorter term, up to one year, and this is expected to be the main period of impact from Covid-19," she said.

Dudgeon said tertiary education providers could contest the proposed reductions.

"Our key message to each provider is that the door for additional funding is not closed. We just need supporting information to increase above the indicative levels which are based on forecast changes in their respective sectors," she said.

Dudgeon said the commission spent $21 million on subsidies for tourism and retail courses last year and the proposed cuts for next year were based on MBIE forecasts that both sectors would contract as a result of the pandemic.

MBIE expects both the tourism and retail sectors will continue to be hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari / 123RF
MBIE expects both the tourism and retail sectors will continue to be hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari / 123RF

The chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, Chris Roberts, said he had met commission staff to discuss the plans and talked to education providers.

"Most are telling us they've been told they'll have 20 to 30 to 35 per cent fewer places funded next year. Once you get up to that sort of level you're starting to question the viability of those courses."

Roberts said although the pandemic had caused layoffs and cutbacks in tourism businesses, they would bounce back when international tourism resumed.

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He said tourism had employed 15,000 foreign workers before the pandemic and many had now returned to their home countries leaving gaps that qualified New Zealand workers could fill.

"We have on the one hand the impression that what's happening in our industry is people being laid off, which is a fact of life right now, but very quickly we could have a major problem finding the people that we need."

Chris Roberts says if training is cut back, businesses may have trouble finding enough qualified staff once international tourism resumes. Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie
Chris Roberts says if training is cut back, businesses may have trouble finding enough qualified staff once international tourism resumes. Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

Roberts said businesses that had laid off staff because of the pandemic were now rehiring or would do so during the summer.

He said reducing tourism training next year could harm the industry for years to come.

"We're training people now to be the future leaders of the industry in 10, 20, 30 years' time, so turning off the tap has an impact not immediately but down the track."