Census shows region's brains

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 09:00 18/01/2014

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Palmerston North brain power is on the up - with neighbouring districts also boasting smarter communities than before.

The city and surrounding towns have boosted their book smarts, with more people gaining qualifications in the past six years, according to Census data.

About 80 per cent of Palmerston North people have achieved a qualification, including Level 1 to 7 certificates, bachelor, post-graduate, honours, masters and doctorate degrees, and overseas secondary school qualifications.

More than 46,000 Palmerston North residents achieved academic credentials, up from nearly 44,000 residents in 2006.

The growth in city scholars claiming smarts is above the country's average of 79 per cent, which equates to about 2.3 million with formal qualifications.

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor said brains brought a certain level of income to the city and created jobs.

"Given the amount of people we have in terms of education institutes, I would have been bitterly disappointed if we were below the national average, but these type of things are always really encouraging and positive for us," he said.

"The important thing is it's improving and the next challenge is for people to use these skills to make them work ready."

Palmerston North prides itself on being a place of academic excellence with the city home to Massey University, UCOL, the International Pacific College and Te Wananga o Aotearoa, as well as research centres like the Riddet Institute, Plant & Food Research, the Bio Commerce Centre, AgResearch and Fonterra laboratories.

Palmerston North also boasts the biggest percentage of doctorate degrees per capita of anywhere in New Zealand.

Census statistics show nearly 2 per cent of Palmerston North people have a PhD, compared with the country's average of 0.6 per cent.

This means that one person in every 51 has a PhD in Palmerston North, whereas one in 151 Kiwis has one.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the region's brainpower was a competitive advantage and should be used as a springboard for economic development.

"It's really important Palmerston North understands and uses that unique aspect of it . . . because it's obviously a pretty brainy place," he said. "That's why it's so important to encourage more investment into the region."

The Government is working with a number of places to highlight their competitive strengths. Palmerston North and the wider districts are an area of note, he said.

Examples are companies like US-based Proliant bringing its $24 million bovine blood plasma processing and research facility to Feilding; and Massey University's Food HQ research collaboration initiative, worth $250m, with partnering from other research facilities, Mr Joyce said.

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The neighbouring districts also add a feather to their caps with the growth in educated people in the provinces.

The number of residents in Rangitikei, Horowhenua, Manawatu and Tararua earning academic credentials has grown in the past six years by at least 4 per cent, despite the population dropping in some areas.

Rangitikei Mayor Andy Watson said people in the provinces are recognising the value of living in the districts and studying, while enjoying an affordable, relaxing life.

"It's fantastic to see that sort of stat. It shows we're moving in the right direction. Any sort of economic development is linked to qualifications and the spinoff is a number of people are recognising Rangitikei as a good place to study, especially with its location close to academic institutes in Palmerston North and Whanganui."

■ The population figures reflect the number of people who filled in qualifications information in the census.

- Manawatu Standard

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