Editorial: Proposal to merge Aoraki into CPIT looks sound

New science building at CPIT.

New science building at CPIT.

EDITORIAL: The proposal to merge the Aoraki Polytechnic based in Timaru with the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology looks like a sound one.

Aoraki, which operates campuses in Timaru, Ashburton, Oamaru, Dunedin and Christchurch, has been struggling financially for some time. According to the change proposal document distributed to staff on Tuesday, Aoraki has posted substantial deficits in recent years and, despite reorganisation and restructuring, without further change those deficits are forecast to continue.

READ MORE: CPIT and Aoraki likely to merge

It has been able to continue only by calling on its large cash reserves. Unless something is done, the proposal says, it would deplete those reserves in about five years and its future would be in doubt.

CPIT, on the other hand, which operates on campuses across Christchurch, is in better shape financially. It got a substantial funding boost from the Government after the earthquakes to promote trade training appropriate to the recovery and its 10-year financial forecast shows it generating an operating surplus with a cash balance to fund its capital programme.  Even so, as it acknowledges, it operates in a competitive environment and those capital demands are likely to be substantial.   

Some job losses are predicted from the proposal, which is unfortunate, but the merged entity should be better placed to face a rapidly evolving educational scene.   Both are educationally sound. At its last review by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, CPIT received a category-one rating, the highest level. Aoraki was category two, the second level. Aoraki, however, has the handicap of a smaller population to draw on, coupled with providing a substantial number of courses to relatively small classes spread over a large area.

The efficiencies to be gained by having a single entity should enable it to serve the needs of the community it works for without a significant loss of variety and choice to its students.

Aoraki has also been a victim of a paradoxical effect of a flourishing economy. When times are good, its intake tends to fall, impairing its finances.  The easier availability of jobs in the last couple of years has meant that more school leavers have tended to find employment directly after high school rather than seeking a tertiary-level qualification of the kind that Aoraki offers.

It has been known for some time that something would need to be done to put Aoraki on a more secure financial footing.  The proposal to merge it with CPIT was not lightly arrived at. It was one of seven options, ranging from allowing things to remain as they are to a full merger, which were measured against four criteria – long-term sustainability, contribution to economic development, delivering the vision of the institutes, and legal and practical feasibility. Only the merger – to create an organisation that will be given a new name – met  all criteria fully. 

In the past, the Tertiary Education Union has expressed misgivings about the possibility of the absorption of Aoraki in to CPIT. It should, however, see it as an opportunity to secure the long-term future of both organisations.      

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