SIT boosts classes in line with demands

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013

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While other polytechnics are slashing courses, the Southern Institute of Technology has increased classes to keep up with demand.

SIT chief financial officer Bharat Guha said the polytechnic had added extra streams in trade courses, such as construction, to keep up with strong enrolments this year. "We've been very fortunate this time. We have had good enrolments."

As of yesterday, the polytechnic had accepted 4981 applications for full-time and part-time courses, which was about on par with last year, he said. However, as well as burgeoning trade enrolments, he expected more students to be studying full-time this year.

In 2012, the polytechnic was funded for 4572 equivalent full-time students (EFTS), but in 2013 had a target of 4713 EFTS, which Mr Guha was confident the institute would reach.

A commitment to trade courses at its Invercargill and Christchurch campuses had helped SIT endure in a time of course cuts and job losses, he said.

"We've stuck with trades and that has been a really big plus."

Mr Guha was unsure if any new jobs would be created by the stream expansions. He said only three courses had been discontinued this year because of low interest - the Certificate in Massage, Certificate in Mental Health, and a distance learning Certificate in Landscape Design, each of which had attracted fewer than four enrolments.

Courses had to secure a minimum of 12 enrolments annually to go ahead, he said.

Although SIT had lost $210,000 in performance subsidy funding for 2013, Mr Guha said he was not concerned. "We actually budgeted for that . . . so it wasn't like it was a surprise."

Many tertiary providers were affected when the Tertiary Education Commission changed the way funding for level one and two courses was allocated last year.

This came after a $50m cut to government polytechnic funding in 2011.

UCOL has slashed 23 courses and about 30 jobs from its Palmerston North and Whanganui campuses, while Eastern Institute of Technology is expected to cut courses and dismiss at least 12 staff.

Lincoln University announced plans to cut up to 100 courses, and job cuts are also expected.

Tertiary Education Union communications and campaign officer Stephen Day said the union estimated that 100 jobs had been lost because of funding changes and cuts in the past year.

Students were ultimately the ones who lost out, as staff cuts meant heavier workloads for remaining academic staff and less contact time with students, he said.

He acknowledged SIT had been relatively unaffected, but said this may not continue to be the case.

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"The pressure is on all polytechnics at the moment. SIT has performed well . . . and has probably fared better than some of the others, but the pressure is there."

If funding cuts continued, polytechnics could be forced to abandon more courses, which would harm regional institutions such as SIT more than urban ones.

Regional polytechnics had to offer a breadth of courses to survive, while urban polytechnics had the population base to support specialisation, he said.

lauren.hayes@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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