'Get out of Christchurch' mentality hampers Canterbury University bid to grow student numbers
A "get out of Christchurch" mentality is hampering efforts to rebuild student numbers at the quake-hit Canterbury University.
The university is looking at cost-cutting measures to tackle a more than $10 million deficit and address a student shortage.
The factors that drew students to the university equally pushed them away: Students in Wellington and Christchurch cited the earthquakes, specific study programmes, scholarships, student culture and family ties as reasons to stay or go elsewhere.
The University of Canterbury (UC) enrolled 11,501 full-time equivalent domestic students this year – about 500 fewer than it hoped – and was still being funded for thousands of unfilled student places.
It will lose up to $7m if it cannot recover the roughly 3500-student shortfall when the funding arrangement expires in 2019.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr said the university was considering how many of about 100 job vacancies "it does not need to appoint" to cut $3.5 million out of a projected $10.1m deficit in 2018. Retiring staff may not be replaced.
He believed it was on track to deliver major building projects early next year and a break-even budget in 2019.
"There's still an element of 'get out of Christchurch' among students, but I think that's changing," said Carr.
A $4m deficit for the university in 2018 was forecast back in 2014. By May last year it had grown to an estimated $9m.
This week, Carr said the university's expected deficit was now $10.1m and "it's financial position required careful management".
The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) has funded UC, Lincoln, and Ara to pre-quake enrolment levels since 2011.
Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith said he did not plan to extend any additional funding to UC.
But Carr felt optimistic about the university's progress and future.
Higher living costs in Wellington and Auckland were helping attract students, and recruitment drives at local high schools had taken on "a different tone," he said.
The university has previously drawn students from Auckland with ski passes, accommodation grants, and event tickets.
International student numbers had bounced back to pre-quake levels – 1377 equivalent full-time students this year – post-graduate student numbers were the highest ever, and domestic enrolments were "growing against strong headwinds".
"We're not entirely through it [the post-quake mentality] but we're definitely seeing a recovery."
UC students said its culture, particular courses or staff, or the option of staying close to home were attractive.
Paige Valentine, a third-year film studies student from Christchurch, was persuaded away from Otago University by UC's media studies programmes.
"I love how at UC clubs are a really big part of it. You talk to someone at Otago or Auckland and clubs aren't really a thing there."
Second-year commerce student Sarah Gordon was "indifferent" about campus life. She chose UC because it offered a $1000 scholarship "I couldn't get anywhere else", and to continue living at home.
The high school friends said they were put off by Otago University's "juvenile" student culture.
PhD student Tom Gillman, from the Hawke's Bay, chose UC because he found a "supportive" supervisor there, and wanted to be close to the mountains.
In retrospect, he would have completed his studies in Europe, he said.
"For postgraduates, it's been a struggle. We don't have the strongest community on campus but we're working on it."
He said the university, like Christchurch, was going through a "transitional phase", with six construction projects on campus, but had not been inconvenienced by them.
Students' Association president James Addington said a certain number of students would always want to move away from home to study regardless.
South Island students attending Victoria University of Wellington said the Christchurch earthquakes' impact on city life played a part in their university choice.
Shana Sygrove-Savill, of Nelson, said Wellington was a good choice for her as it was close to home and her sister lived there.
The third-year -science student considered Wellington and Dunedin and said the Christchurch earthquake "definitely" factored into her decision.
"I didn't really think about Canterbury in that way, as it might not have such a big student life as they are still doing the rebuild," she said.
Other students from Christchurch said they chose to live somewhere new, or take a specific course that was not offered at home.
"I considered [University of] Canterbury because they have good scholarships," first-year theatre student Rebekah de Roo said.
"If they had the subjects, I would have stayed there."
Carr said delays and difficulties increased building costs at the university by $39m, about 7 per cent of its annual operating budget.
Rehua, the new home for UC's College of Education, accounted for about half that cost, with the rest because of buildings that were "more damaged than we thought," Carr said.
He said the university needed to "prioritise spending" and reduce duplication, fragmentation and "lower priority" activities.
He hoped to attract more students with 15 new postgraduate courses. He would seek more philanthropic and Government support.
Tertiary Education Union Christchurch organiser Gabrielle Moore said UC had been transparent with staff about its budget constraints.
"We're not looking at any job losses at this stage and there's no major restructure being signalled."
While UC would lose the significant TEC funding in 2019, "a lot can happen between now and then", she said.