Ara opens South Canterbury campuses to public

Ara students Jordan Eden, Izaeah Tarawa, and Josh Boulden feed calves at the Washdyke training farm.
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAXNZ

Ara students Jordan Eden, Izaeah Tarawa, and Josh Boulden feed calves at the Washdyke training farm.

A campus upgrade and new courses are in the pipeline as Ara Institute of Canterbury tries to boost flagging primary industry enrolments.

Ara's Timaru and Washdyke campuses opened their doors to the public on Thursday, giving people a chance to check out the courses and facilities on offer.

It was also a chance for the institution to promote its primary industry courses, which have struggled to reach enrolment targets.

Figures from the Ara council agenda show primary industry full year enrolments have reached 43 per cent of the 2016 target.

There were 99 enrolments for the year, well short of the 231 predicted.

Primary Industries head of department Vikki Roadley said the targets set had been "aspirational".

"It's a challenge to have young people wanting to go and work on farms."

The dairy downturn had also had an effect on enrolments, she said.

There were two different markets targeted at the Washdyke farm, she said.

Level 2 and 3 programmes were offered, as well as a level five course that was targeted towards farm managers wanting to upskill.

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A new programme would be offered in Washdyke from 2017.

That was the Certificate in Horticulture, which Roadley was "really excited about".

As well as the new course, there was a "significant" piece of work being done around upgrades for Ara's campuses.

That would include South Canterbury campuses such as the training farm at Washdyke.

Equipment such as motorbikes and tractors were being reviewed, as were the buildings, Roadley said.

It was too early to determine how enrolments were shaping up for 2017, she said.

However, there was plenty of interest during the open day.

About 100 people checked out the campuses on Thursday.

"It's been great, actually," she said.

"We've had lots of genuinely interested people through."

There had also been some course applications, which was positive, she said.

Most of the interest was in areas such as business, hairdressing, and hospitality.

While primary industry enrolments were down, several departments were set to reach their full year target.

That included engineering and architecture, hospitality, humanities, and applied science.

Earlier in the year, chief executive Kay Giles acknowledged there had been a "pretty clear mis-estimate" of the demand for the primary industry courses.

There was work going on to assess the needs of the sector, she said.

"We've had a couple of external consultants looking at the opportunities there.

"We've definitely got some ideas."

No definite plans had been made yet, she said.

The Government had put out Level 3 and Level 4 primary industry courses for tender, and Ara had submitted an application for those, she said.

The polytechnic's primary industry programmes have often been touted as one of its biggest drawcards, and focuses, in South Canterbury.

In the business case to merge the now-defunct Aoraki Polytechnic and CPIT, it was proposed that a primary industries Centre of Excellence would be established in Timaru, with satellite educational facilities in Ashburton, Oamaru, and North Canterbury.

Earlier in the year, Ara chairwoman Jenn Bestwick said that Centre of Excellence was still going ahead, but a business case was being developed to establish exactly what the needs were in the primary industry sector.

 - Stuff

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