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Arts suffers under regional plan - Northtec head

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 3 days ago

Northtec chief executive Mark Ewen © RNZ / Lois Williams Northtec chief executive Mark Ewen An increasingly complex funding system has affected Northtec's ability to offer some courses and is part of the reason for the polytech's funding crisis, its chief executive says.

Northtec is proposing to scrap several courses, cut up to 50 staff, and close satellite campuses as it grapples with a forecast loss of $4.5 million.

Chief executive Mark Ewen said the main problem was a downturn in student numbers.

"That's across New Zealand, not just Northland, and it's to do with the economy When more jobs are around a lot of people will choose work ahead of study," he said.

About $260,000 of the projected loss was related to the complexity of the funding system, Mr Ewen said, and the difficulty in predicting who and what would be funded.

Multiple funding streams had been launched by the government in recent years, and shifting course levels had made it harder to forecast income and hit financial targets, he said.

"That's affecting not just courses like the arts, but courses for which there's strong employer demand in the north, like our agriculture courses," Mr Ewen said.

Northtec's plan to close visual arts and sports courses and the Rawene and Kerikeri campuses have been challenged by students and some community leaders.

"In the case of Rawene, we know that's a passionate community and that's great but in our present circumstances we can't afford to keep a campus going for 29 students and 7 staff," Mr Ewen said.

"We may be able to bus them to Kaikohe to deliver some courses and we are looking at that," he said.

Dr Ewen said the polytech also had to make sure its courses aligned with the strategy of its funder, the Tertiary Education Commission.

He said that meant targeting Māori and Pasifika students, the under-20's, school-leavers and the (employment) priorities of the Regional Economic Plan.

"In the visual arts course, for instance, if there is no employer demand for graduates, what happens to them?" he said.

Dr Ewen said it was true that some graduates had enjoyed great success, but he queried the outcomes for the cohort, compared to a trades course.

"If a student comes in via MSD, completes Levels 2 or 3, then goes back on the benefit, what have we done for the region? We at Northtec have done OK, but the student's back on the dole with a student loan," he said.

Mark Ewen said to be viable a course needed to show student demand, employer demand, and good graduate outcomes.

"It's not that we don't value the arts, but we can't afford to subsidise this sort of choice, when the viability of Northtec itself is at stake," he said.

Chief executive David Wilson for economic development agency Northland Inc has said he would be sorry to see the arts and sport courses go.

Both sectors were important in Northland's economy, and graduates from such courses often ended up creating new businesses, not just jobs, he said.

Arts promotion agency Creative Northland was also upset at proposals to end the long-standing visual arts course, with general manager Hinurewa te Hau saying it was the third-fastest growing sector of the Northland economy.

"Apart from its intrinsic value, it does contribute to the region's GDP," she said.

"It provides social infrastructure but it also attracts visitors to the region and creates jobs, and that will only increase with the building of the Hundertwasser and Wairau Māori Arts centre," she said.

The visual arts course taught digital graphics, web-design and sound and moving image studies as well as traditional arts subjects.

"If we lose these programmes we lose the potential to build a skilled workforce," she said.

"These new workers, these new youth coming through will be developing our new businesses, be it in media, film or whatever and working from Northland and globally because that's what technology is doing for us."

Northtec said neither arts nor sport and recreation were priorities in the region's economic action plan.

The plan developed under the previous government lists areas of opportunity as tourism, marine, forestry, agriculture, aquaculture, horticulture and honey production.

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