Backlash over proposal to drop courses, close farm campus
The Ara Institute has come under fire as it proposes to cut five courses, six staff and close the Washdyke Farm campus.
The tertiary education provider announced last week that primary industry, horticulture, agriculture, farming systems and good services programmes in Timaru were earmarked for closure.
A consultation document was circulated to the six affected staff members, who were invited to submit their feedback by June2.
A final report and implementation plan, if approved, would be available on June 8.
Tertiary Education Union organiser Kris Smith said there had been an ongoing concern that tertiary education provision in South Canterbury would be diminished, following the merger of Aoraki Polytechnic and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) in December 2015.
“Every step that erodes education provision in South Canterbury reduces the attractiveness of the institution to students.”
Tertiary Education Union South Canterbury representative Carol Soal said the proposals left colleagues and fellow union members in Timaru feeling “very uncertain about the future of their campus and other regional campuses”.
“Many staff are also questioning Ara’s long-term commitment to the region having both had a commitment from management and a pledge from the National Government to ensure quality provision would be maintained.
“We will, of course, be doing everything we can to challenge these proposals and to ensure job losses are kept to a minimum.”
Ara chief executive Kay Giles said the restructure of primary industries programmes was “designed to adjust provision to align with industry demands”.
“We are disappointed that the Tertiary Education Union has chosen to portray this review as a `betrayal of Timaru’, which clearly does not accurately reflect the facts of the review consultation document.
“It is our responsibility to the Timaru community and the primary industries sector to adjust the portfolio to offer the right programmes for the needs of employers.
“There has been very little demand for the particular programmes that are under review, so we need to put our energy where there will be much more value for the primary sector.”
Programmes under review constituted lower level programmes (levels 1-3) where low enrolments had been ongoing and “employment outcomes” were limited, she said.
“The ratio of staff to equivalent full-time students (EFTS) across the five programmes under review was one staff member to 2.4 EFTS in 2016 and is currently one to 1.75 EFTS.
“The institute aims for an average ratio of 17.5 EFTS per academic staff member, although this varies, as would be expected, based on the learning area, health and safety and required resources.”
South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce and former Aoraki Polytechnic chief executive Wendy Smith said several factors were linked to the current government funding mechanisms for students, creating a “challenging operating environment which requires creative and flexible training options and extremely
strong industry relationships”.