Confirmation today that the Taratahi Institute of Agriculture  is to be liquidated proves that the tertiary education sector needs urgent reform – and that the tens of thousands of people that dedicate their working lives to teaching others need to be better supported when government policy fails so demonstrably.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor must commit this week to providing government support to the 1,200 students who are already enrolled for next year , and the around 250 staff who will be affected by the liquidation, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) said. This must include assurances that every member of staff receives the redundancy and other allowances they are entitled to. In no way should they and their families be negatively affected by the failures of others, not least the last National Government that put in place policies that have hindered the community provision of tertiary education right across the sector.
Early next year Chris Hipkins is expected to announce provisional plans for the future of the vocational education sector. This follows the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnic Roadmap project carried out by the Tertiary Education Commission and a less than satisfactory Ministry review of vocational education and training. To date the Minister has given no signal of his long term plans to ensure the viability of vocational provision in New Zealand’s communities. In a letter to the three Ministers, the TEU has urged the government to act swiftly to ensure no further tertiary education provision is affected by ill-fitting policy and funding settings.
Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, said:
“When it was agreed last year that Taratahi would take over the Telford division of Lincoln University we said that Ministers needed to back up the decision with a properly funded plan that guarantees locally-focused, quality training opportunities for current and future generations of students. To now be talking about Taratahi’s liquidation is unspeakably disappointing. This is just the latest in a growing number of institutions that have been failed by government policy and poorly designed funding systems. But let’s be clear about this: we all as New Zealanders have been failed too. Because without community providers who will train future generations to work in sector so vital to our economy?
“I’ve spent time with the team at Taratahi in Telford and I know how passionate they and their colleagues in other parts of the country are about their jobs and serving the local community. I cannot imagine what they must be feeling right now, and what they will be saying to their families when they return home tonight. Through years of policy and management failures, these people have stayed committed to their jobs and done everything they can to support students on their learning journey. It would be wrong if the government left these people out to dry. The Minister for Education must make a clear commitment to supporting every member of staff and ensuring they get what they are entitled to.”