Following the news yesterday that people working at the Taratahi Institute of Agriculture could be forced to go without pay, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) called on the Minister to step in immediately to support those affected and their families.
“It is simply not right that the people who commit their working lives to teaching others the skills we so desperately need, in one of the most important sectors to the New Zealand economy, should pay the price of poor policymaking, most notably from the last National Government,” Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU said.
Shortly before the recent holiday break, nearly 1,200 students and around 250 staff were told that Taratahi was to be liquidated. This followed the withdrawal by Taratahi’s Trust Board of its 2019 funding request to Tertiary Education Commission, making it legally unable to enrol new students. Then, in a letter dated 8th January 2019, the liquidators, Grant Thornton New Zealand Ltd, advised staff their pay could be suspended from Friday, subject to feedback and a final decision on Friday morning. Suspending pay instead of making people redundant could make things extremely difficult for many people as they look into options to support themselves, such as applying for a mortgage ‘holiday.’ The liquidator’s letter made no mention of what will happen to existing students, and how they will be supported to continue their study.
Grey added: “The strain this news will put on people’s lives is impossible to imagine. To make it that little bit easier, and to ensure people can continue to provide for their families whilst they look for new opportunities, Minister Hipkins must urgently make assurances that every member of staff receives the pay, redundancy and other allowances they are entitled to.”
Every person that has been affected by Taratahi’s liquidation, as well as their families, the local businesses that depend on their custom, and the students that would have gone on to work in agriculture, are first hand examples of what happens when government policy is such that it hinders the community provision of tertiary education. With the Minister due to announce provisional plans for reform of the vocational education sector, the TEU said he must act swiftly to ensure no further tertiary education provision is affected by ill-fitting policy and funding settings. For the existing Taratahi campuses, this means bringing the institution back into public and community ownership, and ensuring the transfer is at no cost to the new providers.
Grey said: “If ever there was time to do the right thing, this is it. Local MPs should be pressuring the Minister as much as possible, asking questions in Parliament, writing to him, talking to the media. Local media themselves should be heaping pressure on their elected representatives to do just this, holding them to account for policies that are destroying peoples’ lives. Businesses, farmers, the local community – anyone affected – should be calling or writing to their MP urging them to stand by the people and communities across NZ who are affected by this. That’s what we are doing, so we hope others will stand with us.”
James Ranstead, president of NZUSA, said: “Having grown up rurally myself, I understand the importance of institutes such as Taratahi for training our next generation of workers. It is incredibly saddening, especially as this outcome could have been avoided. My heart goes out to each and every one of the students affected. With the primary sector currently screaming out for more trained professionals, the liquidation has come at the perfectly wrong time. Even so, this is just one of a number of institutions around the country that are struggling as a result of a funding system that relies on student attendance and success, i.e. ‘bums on seats’. There are alternatives funding models, and the situation Taratahi finds itself in could have been avoided, had the Government selected a funding model that is more directed towards regional support. It is time it did just that.”