Labour assuages concerns over tertiary policy
SIT, the education and economic powerhouse in Invercargill, has become a bit of a political football as the election looms.
On Monday, former Labour leader Andrew Little met with Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds, and Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt, who had expressed concerns that Labour's new education policy on SIT might "crush" Invercargill.
In January, Labour announced it would provide first-time students three years of free tertiary education.
Initially, the scheme would start off with one free year in 2019, before bringing out the full three years by 2024.
On August 29, party leader Jacinda Ardern said the scheme would be brought forward a year, to come into effect in 2018.
Simmonds said while it was a "very positive" meeting, there were still unanswered questions about how the policy would affect SIT.
"It was great to have the opportunity to air our concerns, and point out areas of policy and ideas that need to be put into place."
However, she said it was not yet clear how SIT would be affected.
"There's a lot of detail still to be worked through, which makes it challenging for an institution like us."
Simmonds said there was no centralised database to measure who was a first-time student, and it was unclear how fees would be paid for across different institutions.
Issues such as early withdrawals would have to be accounted for, particularly for practical courses such as carpentry or hairdressing, where fees paid for thousands of dollars worth of kit.
"We now understand the policy a little better, but there are still some concerns to be allayed.
"The policy may be detrimental to a lot of regions if students were to be drawn to larger cities."
However, Simmonds said Little and Labour's Invercargill candidate Dr Liz Craig - who also attended the meeting) -had not seen any conflict between the party's education policy and SIT's plans to potentially offer free accommodation.
Little said he did not believe the policy would adversely affect Southland.
"We have great admiration and respect for what SIT has done, so we certainly don't want to undermine what they've done for the city.
"They're a good example of a polytech doing its job as a polytech."
He assured Simmonds that its target wasn't tertiary institutions operating like SIT, but mainly private training establishments doing courses of "limited quality".
"[Those courses are] more about international students coming to New Zealand to get the right to work, because they get 20 hours a week while they're studying, and then the right to [work for] two years fulltime after that."
Little said to bring the scheme forward from 2019 to 2018, a temporary funding system would be required.
"Because we want to get it up and running, we will have a different system for 2018.
"We won't have time to work with tertiary institutes about how the money will flow, so what we will do is tell the universities to charge what they would normally charge, and then we will reimburse the students.
"We're doing that for next year alone, and then we'll work out the back office system so that by 2019, they're not relying on students to fork out money and then us refund them."
Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie, from National, said Labour's tertiary policy and plans to cut international students would see millions of dollars lost from SIT.
"Labour has made it pretty clear they don't care about regional New Zealand. Their raft of taxes will slow economic growth and hit our farmers, towns and households.
"SIT is an outstanding institution and it needs policies that will let it innovate and help it succeed.
"Yet again we're seeing what a Labour team would do in government – with poorly thought out policies that don't benefit the regions."