Refugee students hit by funding cuts

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 08:28 11/12/2012

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Up to 80 refugee students will lose out on English language classes because of government funding cuts.

Wellington Institute of Technology chief executive Linda Sissons last month wrote to applicants for a course beginning next year.

She said it would not take place, citing the cuts and saying Weltec was hoping to make arrangements with another organisation.

However, refugee advocates say the alternatives offered are private training establishments in Wellington - and the students who live in the Hutt Valley can't afford the extra $50 a week in travel costs.

''The families I work with are desperately trying to integrate,'' a volunteer, who did not want to be identified, said.

''They want to work and the only way they can belong properly is if they can speak the language.

''They were all accepted to the course because they really worked hard. There was despair in their eyes when they got the letter.''

The foundation courses are available for refugees who want to improve their English, or ''second chance'' learners who need to brush up their language and maths skills before embarking on further study.

The refugees affected hail from Myanmar, Colombia and Sri Lanka.

Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson said courses were being cut and almost 100 jobs slashed after the Government removed $32 million from polytechnic funding.

''These are important courses to both help new New Zealanders integrate into our country and get the skills to become employment-ready. To have 80 of them have their course wiped out to funding cuts is as silly as it is heartless.

''We need strong training and skill development more than ever as we come out of the recession. The Government seems to be taking a highly short-sighted view.''

Robertson said programmes were being allocated to private providers ''some of whom are simply not up to the job.''

However, Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said he understood only 40 students were affected.

''In the case of Weltec, I would note that the course referred to in the letter is a Level 3 course which by definition is not affected by the foundation funding changes at Level 1 and 2.''

Joyce said the Government was investing over $2m in ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) and there would be over 2200 places next year.

He was confident there was sufficient ESOL provision in the Hutt region.

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