Five stood down in Witt probe

Five Witt employees have been stood down as investigations continue into its Maori performing arts course.

A memo obtained by the Taranaki Daily News says the employees were suspended pending the outcome of the investigation into its National Certificate in Maori Performing Arts (Level 4) course.

The five staff include three Maori performing arts tutors and two staff from its Te Wananga Maori department.

The memo stressed it was an employment investigation and it was not about the quality of its teaching.

"Because these are employment investigations, it is not appropriate to make any further comment at this stage," it read.

Last month, the Daily News revealed the course had come under scrutiny after a complaint was laid in mid-May, alleging students had graduated without completing the required coursework.

Witt's 2014 handbook says the qualification is designed to "increase knowledge in the area of Maori performing arts". The year-long open entry course can be studied fulltime or part-time.

The Daily News understands the complaint came from one of the 222 students enrolled in the 2012 programme.

The Ministry of Education said it had been informed of the investigation and referred all comments to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC).

TEC chief executive Tim Fowler said the commission was aware of the recent employment matters but said they were internal matters for Witt to resolve.

The Daily News understands the investigation is focused on only one class of one programme in Witt's Maori department.

Witt chief executive Barbara George said the performing arts course would continue after the two-week break and replacement staff would be brought in if necessary.

Affected staff have access to their union as well as counselling services provided by the institute.

It will be another three weeks before the investigation is completed and George said Witt "did not rush" in its decision to have its employees suspended.

She also said the staff were continuing to help Witt with the investigation.

Fowler said Witt had contacted TEC earlier this year with concerns about the delivery of its Maori performing arts course.

"Witt engaged an external auditor to investigate these claims and invited TEC and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to provide support for the investigation, given the agencies' expertise and experience in these matters."

Fowler said the TEC was responsible for ensuring the tertiary education system performed well and appropriate action was taken if it appeared there was an issue.

"In this instance, Witt is taking the right actions to investigate this complaint," Fowler said.

Witt's Maori department leader Tengaruru Wineera resigned on Tuesday for health reasons and George said he had flagged his resignation to her more than a month ago.

George said the institute was in the process of "putting in" a temporary or seconded manager into its Maori department.

"This has just happened, so I'm in consultation and process to re-staff," George said.

"I haven't made a decision on how I'll replace Tengaruru."

TEC has brought forward its regular audit, which was scheduled for October, and this is still under way.

Taranaki Daily News