Education source of city prosperity

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 20/12/2012

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Education has long been recognised as Palmerston North's key strength, and now the city council has produced the figures that prove it.

It is the largest industry in the region, accounting for $332 million or 12.6 per cent of total earnings.

Its total contribution to regional economic activity is about $700m.

Tertiary education alone employs some 3228 people, and tertiary students spend up to $278m a year.

The figures are found in a comprehensive profile of education from early childhood to tertiary institutions in Manawatu that was released by the council this week.

Mayor Jono Naylor said the profile provided concrete evidence of what most people knew intuitively - that education is hugely important to the region. But the dollar signs did not capture the whole story, such as the importance of a well-educated work force for the region and for New Zealand.

The spinoffs for Manawatu were that it was easier for residents to achieve higher educational outcomes than the national average, and educational strength attracted businesses that wanted the families of their workers to be able to go on to tertiary education.

"Palmerston North is known worldwide as a centre of education excellence. Students live, work, volunteer and participate in sports and cultural activities in the city, they are part of the makeup of our community.

"A number of head offices, including Toyota New Zealand purposefully shifted to Palmerston North because of the educational facilities. Companies such as Unlimited Realities, Spider Tracks, Baker No Tillage and many other companies were founded by people who studied in Palmerston North.

"Education is part of our city's reputation."

Mr Naylor said the profile launch provided an opportunity for people to brainstorm ideas on how to build on opportunities for growth.

Attracting more students, including international students, was great for the city, and there was potential to create more economic benefits by connecting research with business.

The profile was prepared before UCOL learnt of a $2.6m cut in its budget from the Tertiary Education Commission that is costing 10 courses, 30 jobs, and hundreds of student places next year.

But economic analyst Peter Crawford said some of that money had been retained in the region, and while serious for UCOL, did not significantly dent the overall scale of the education sector in Manawatu.

UCOL chief executive Paul McElroy said UCOL remained confident of its role and contribution to the Manawatu region, with more than 70 programmes still on offer.

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"It is pleasing to see key aspects mentioned in the opening few sentences of the profile, such as education being critical to New Zealand's economic prosperity, and ensuring that all citizens are able to positively contribute to society."

Other highlights of the profile show there are high levels of participation in early childhood education in the region across all ethnic groups, a significant growth in average hours in early childhood education, secondary schools continue to attract pupils from outside the region, and University Entrance achievement levels compare well against the New Zealand average.

Research sector organisations in the region employed 800 staff in February 2012.

Massey University graduation ceremonies alone bring about $500,000 additional economic activity into the region.

- Manawatu Standard

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