Palmerston North's leaders have joined in opposition to Government funding cuts that are set to cost UCOL a raft of jobs and courses.
Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has sided with Mayor Jono Naylor's view that chopping UCOL's entry-level programmes could harm the city's student-friendly reputation.
Missing out on a slice of TEC Student Achievement Component funding for entry-level courses for 2013 will cost UCOL $2.6 million in revenue, with a portion being offered to private training establishments for the first time. In response, UCOL has proposed programme and job cuts that could see up to 50 UCOL workers hitting the jobs market by Christmas.
Mr Lees-Galloway said tertiary education was "under attack".
"UCOL has suffered from the Government's determination that it is going to shift more tertiary education funding into the private sector," Mr Lees-Galloway said. "It is very bad news for everyone.
"We have so many unemployed people who want to work and there are jobs out there, but they need particular skills to pick up those jobs and quite often that training starts at polytechnics."
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the Government wanted to make sure it got good value from its spending.
"Mr Lees-Galloway seems to be arguing that the Government should maintain its funding regardless of the outcomes and regardless of whether the institution is able to enrol the numbers of students it's funded for - that is, no accountability for public funding. We have left those times behind."
Mr Lees-Galloway said the snub could channel students to other centres such as Wellington, and Palmerston North needed to protect its student city reputation.
"Each of the provinces needs their own niche ... obviously tertiary education is one of our strengths and if we have to play to that strength, central government needs to support us."
UCOL student union president Kylie Jefferies said stripping back Palmerston North's entry-level programmes was problematic.
"Obviously Christchurch is needing trades-qualified people and if Massey can't provide those courses and the wananga can't provide those courses, where are these people going to get that education?
"They are going to have to go to other centres, which is added cost, added travel; not the same, supportive environment that you get here at UCOL."
UCOL students were worried about the impact of job losses on the polytechnic and had come out in support of staff facing the axe, Ms Jefferies said.
"Most of them are really concerned not just for themselves, but for their lecturers."
Among them is first-year tourism student Mel Keegan, whose course is earmarked for the chopping block.
"Basically we've had the rug ripped out from under us and so have the lecturers, and they are still fronting up for us."
Fellow student Krisanna Wanoa, 19, was unimpressed that the bridging course the pair had enjoyed would likely not be on offer to others next year.
"It sucks because I know a lot of my younger friends are interested in this course.
"I told my best friend to come on this course this year. She was going to do it next year, but now she can't."
Mr Joyce said state funding was contingent on quality and performance and "those that show they can effectively enrol and deliver for students will be prioritised for funding".
"Contestability of funding has been in place for a very long time. Those that lose funding always find it challenging."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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