Fears for teens over WelTec's funds cut

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012
Chris Meehan
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ

PETONE PROTEST: WelTec electrotech tutor Chris Meehan says lots of young people 'grow up' in the trades courses such as the one he teaches.

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The loss of $2 million in funding for WelTec has prompted fears that vulnerable Hutt Valley youth could turn to crime instead of trades courses.

WelTec fears it could lose 300 equivalent fulltime students and 24 fulltime teaching jobs as a result of changes in the last Budget to the way level 1 and 2 student foundation - basic pre-training - courses are funded.

Tertiary Education Union organiser Phil Dyhrberg said trade courses often absorbed adolescent boys who had dropped out of a secondary school system geared to the academic needs of girls, putting them back on the streets or in the dole queue.

"It means idle hands can get in trouble and it could flow on to crime and unemployment - it's not good for Naenae, it's not good for Belmont, it's not good for Normandale," Mr Dyhrberg said during a protest at WelTec's Petone campus yesterday.

But Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce rejected the claims, labelling them "scaremongering". "They've really gone off the reservation today. That's poor."

About 20 TEU members, including tutors from the trade academies likely to be affected, cut a red-iced cake at the protest.

"The red icing symbolises blood - we've got some bleeding going on here today," Mr Dyhrberg said.

Nationally, the union calculates that $10.9m of funding and 95 jobs would be lost from 18 polytechs, including the loss of $2.6m, 375 fulltime-equivalent students, and 33 jobs at Ucol in Palmerston North and Whanganui.

If WelTec's automotive, electrotech, mechanical, creative technology and foundation courses, which teach basic maths and English, were closed, it could affect more than 1000 students, many of whom were "at-risk" teenage boys, Mr Dyhrberg said.

TEU national president Sandra Grey said the funding change was an "ideological experiment" by Mr Joyce that would go "horribly wrong".

Nationally, thousands of students would not be able to enrol for dozens of threatened courses and many respected and qualified tutors could lose their jobs, she said.

But Mr Joyce said the suggestion that funding cuts could equal $10.9m was well off the mark and no number had been finalised. No trade schools would be axed and the union's estimation of job losses was ridiculous.

Industry wanted focus to shift to higher-level courses and to suggest the changes would lead to youth offending was out of line, he said.

WelTec electrotech tutor Chris Meehan said many of the students he had taught had matured into capable adults as a result of learning a trade.

"Lots of these kids grow up in these courses and are watching each other achieve."

Contact Matt Stewart
Reporter
Email: matt.stewart@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @smatape

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- The Dominion Post

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