Most weekends you’ll find me at the farmers’ market in Timaru.

You may not think a lecturer at the polytechnic would be interested in activities outside their own classrooms, or my case kitchen, but we are.

Staff at Ara Aoraki are part of the community. We help to build skilled workers in hospitality and on building sites, in hospitals and businesses, and we are keen to make sure we model strong community involvement to all our learners.

Working and living in Timaru means Ara staff are committed to doing the best by everyone who lives in Timaru, not just those studying.

We want our learners to get stuck in when there are community events and actions. For me that means making bread for the farmers’market and chatting to everyone who comes along.

As tutors locally, we want to support innovations in the local businesses – and can only do that if we’re part of the local regional development agency and chamber of commerce.

Sadly, a decade of under funding and leaders who’ve not listened to those of us working in rural and regional polytechnics, has cut across our core mission – to train and educate for our community.

The cuts to courses and programmes of study – totalling in the dozens here in Timaru – leaves learners and their whanau with fewer options.

The slashing of jobs year after year – because the last government saw tertiary education as a nice-to-have, not a vital public service– means we can’t be present in the community as much as we want.

It’s time to end all of this. That’s why we’re taking to the streets today and will keep doing so until the Labour-led government steps-up.The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, has a sound vision for accessible,regional vocational education to clean up the mess we are in. But we need to stabilise our polytechnics.

Labour has a $7 bn surplus and we only want $60 mil (less than 2%).

We will help them deliver on their promise of more accessible education, but can only do that if we’ve got jobs and are still here as part of the community tomorrow.