Cuts hurt students most

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 11:30 05/11/2012

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Palmerston North UCOL staff whose jobs are in the firing line have spoken out against the funding cuts they say will create a "gap" in the education system.

UCOL staff presented an opening evening that promoted the polytechnic at the same time they found out their jobs were on the line.

A government funding snub will cost UCOL $2.6 million in revenue. In response it has proposed programme and job cuts that could see up to 50 UCOL workers hitting the job market by Christmas. Staff are worried this could cause a scramble for scarce higher education positions.

"That's the problem when you're dropping this amount of staff and there's funding cuts everywhere, this is what happens," UCOL tertiary study skills lecturer Graeme Read said.

His foundation programme is among those on the chopping block. He said the decision would create a "gap" for school-leavers and mature students who wanted literacy and numeracy bridging courses to prepare them for university.

"Where will they go to get further study? They can't go back to high school, high school hasn't worked for them," Mr Read said.

Tertiary Education Union's UCOL leader Tina Smith said a lack of funding for foundation level study was concerning for school-leavers.

"There is going to be this big hole for students in this region, there is going to be nothing. So if it's not being provided by private training organisations, it's not being provided by anyone."

UCOL was among several polytechnics nationwide that missed out on a slice of $40m in Student Achievement Funding for level one and two courses, available for the first time to private education providers too.

UCOL is now consulting with staff on its plan to address the cut, which includes offering training to 375 fewer fulltime equivalent students in 19 fewer courses across its Palmerston North, Whanganui and Wairarapa campuses next year.

Tourism lecturer Iain Flyger was anxious about the possibility of re-entering the job market.

"I can understand their situation, and I think probably in the same position, I would have to look long and hard, too. So I am realistic in that respect. But when it personally affects yourself and the students that you work with, it is particularly hard. For years we've heard about redundancies, and frankly I've read the reports and heard it on the radio, and thought ‘hard luck', but man, when it hits you it's very, very different."

He said the tourism programme had been one of the polytechnic's most popular when it began more than a decade ago.

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Now, people wanting to study tourism would have to look to Wellington. "There's been a distinct change in mood in the students who were about to put their names down for next year, I really feel for them."

UCOL chief executive Paul McElroy said the polytechnic recognised the difficulty of the position staff were in.

"The funding changes imposed on UCOL make this a difficult time for staff, whether directly affected or at a wider collegial level.

"All staff are supportive of each other, we have outside support agencies if staff need their help, and the local TEU branch staff are doing a great job too.

"Staff continue to act as positively and professionally as they can under the circumstances and are focused on meeting current students' needs. "Change is all around us and we will get through this."

- Manawatu Standard

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