OPINION: Last Friday night Witt celebrated its 40th birthday with a low-key affair that belied the significance of the occasion.
Witt, of course, is the acronym for the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki, and even the most ardent supporters would concede that its four decades of existence have been punctuated with issues of urgency.
For much of the decade before the arrival of chief executive Richard Handley in 2008, the institution seemed to have lost its way. Much emphasis had been put on salvaging its increasingly parlous financial situation by trying to recruit overseas students, particularly Asians.
At the same time, and certainly not coincidentally, Witt lost its connection with the Taranaki community and industry. With a distracted management seemingly also intent on pursuing a more academic path, rather than a trades-based one in the tradition of a polytechnic, the disconnection was significant.
Even then, the more publicised problem was financial, with the institute teetering on the brink of collapse, were it not for the largesse of the government of the day. The thought of even considering not having Witt in our midst is too unpalatable to contemplate, given the obvious economic and social benefits it generates.
That may seem unnecessarily gloomy, given the remarkable turnaround in fortunes of the institution, but to fully appreciate the formidable position it is in today, it is worth recalling just where it came from.
At Friday night's modest celebration, at which the talents of many students from the hospitality courses were put to good use, the chief executive told the assembled gathering of his confidence in the future.
"Now we are in a financially, educationally and strategically strong position, I'm sure we can look forward to many more good years of Witt." He is right.
His comments are based on facts, rather than any wild, misplaced optimism. Witt went close to topping a "national league" of educational and academic achievement when compared with every other polytechnic in the country.
Its finances are now secure, the campus has never looked better thanks to a refurbishment programme, and enrolments and completions are at an all-time high.
Of course, there is the odd curve ball that the Tertiary Education Commission seems to delight in throwing its way under the guise of "contestable funding", with the latest bombshell meaning a loss of 70 student places and possibly up to 10 staff.
Few would doubt that Richard Handley and the excellent management team he has built up will not be up to that challenge as well, but they also know they have the full backing of the region behind them.
The remarkable turnaround in public perception has also been due, in no small part, to the excellent work of the Witt council, which is so ably chaired by former South Taranaki mayor Mary Bourke.
The reconnection with the region's communities is complete and we know all Daily News readers will join us in wishing Witt a happy 40th birthday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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