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WelTec to swallow Whitireia in merger, closing Kāpiti campus

A proposal announced yesterday would see two troubled tertiary institutes in the Wellington region merge, with Whitireia Community Polytechnic integrated into the Wellington Institute of Technology in an effort to strengthen their combined financial position.

The organisational change proposal, E Tū Ma Tātou – Our People, Our Challenges, Our Future, would also see the closure of Whitireia’s Kāpiti campus, subject to consultation with staff and the community to find a viable approach for delivering vocational education on the Kāpiti Coast.

WelTec and Whitireia have four campuses at Kāpiti Coast, Petone, Porirua and Wellington, including the Te Auaha creative hub (above) that opened this year.

The two institutions, both in financial difficulty resulting largely from a downturn in overseas student enrolments, have been under the administration of commissioner Neil Barnes since September. He was appointed by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who dissolved the joint Council chaired by Greater Wellington Regional Council chief executive Greg Campbell, after a Government bailout in August.

“The educational performance of WelTec and Whitireia is strong, however we face serious challenges including a weak financial situation and falling enrolments,” said Chief Executive Chris Gosling.

“We must restore our financial viability and lay the foundations for growth, so we can continue to provide quality vocational training and learning that meets the needs of industry, students, iwi and the community.”

“We have operated our two institutions side by side with a common council and executive for a significant period. It’s now time to further simplify how our two organisations work together by considering a merger to create a single, stronger vocational education and training provider for the Wellington region,” he said.

Solicited views from staff, iwi and stakeholders on the proposal will inform a business case that WelTec and Whitireia will submit to the Tertiary Education Commission later this year for ministerial consideration. If the business case for integration is accepted, the Minister of Education would consult with staff, students, iwi and community on a proposal to integrate before making a final decision.

If approved, students of Whitireia Community Polytechnic would transition to become students of the Wellington Institute of Technology. Whitireia would support students with the transfer, including liaising with StudyLink and Immigration NZ.

E Tū Ma Tātou also includes a proposal to close the Kāpiti campus, subject to consultation with potentially affected staff.

“The campus-based approach is not meeting the needs of local students and the community, which has been reflected in the declining student enrolments from 233 students in 2013 to 67 in 2018. The Kāpiti campus in its current form is not financially viable.

A central element of E Tū Ma Tātou is engaging with staff, iwi, employers and local communities to develop a renewal programme to strengthen how the two institutes provide quality vocational learning and training to students across the Wellington region.

“This will include initiatives such as establishing long-term partnerships with major employers, government agencies and iwi, and delivering more flexible learning, micro credentials, and industry-based learning. We will be hosting a series of hui with staff, iwi and stakeholders to gather ideas to inform this programme,” said Mr Gosling.

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) called on Gosling and Barnes to take seriously the views of staff and students affected by the merger proposal, and to make their distinctive local and regional needs of the a Kāpiti region a priority.

“Our polytechnics are based on good teaching for students in diverse communities,” said TEU national president Sandra Grey.

“Currently neither academic staff, nor students, nor communities are at the centre of decisions. TEU members urge the CE and the commissioner to bring this focus back. The concerns of staff include the rising numbers of managers in recent times, the feeling of a lack of academic input into many decisions, the reduction of student support roles, and the lack of connection between the polytechnics and local communities.”

TEU national secretary Sharn Riggs said that TEU members were disappointed with the poposl.

“It highlights how National’s competitive tertiary funding model is failing smaller regional institutions such as Whitireia, which are built on community passion and drive.”

“Education Minister Chris Hipkins wrote to the TEU recently, saying that he expects the CE and the commissioner to engage with staff and students.

“The CE and the commissioner must move now to involve staff and students in the decision-making process. Like the minister, the TEU expects them to work with staff and students to make the distinctive local and regional needs of both institutions a priority, and to preserve the distinct cultures of the different campuses around teaching and student support,” Grey said.

Staff, iwi and those with an interest can provide feedback on the proposal to integrate the two institutions, to the deadline of 28 November.

More information is available at www.weltec.ac.nz/etumatatou and www.whitireia.ac.nz/etumatatou