Unitec, the country’s largest industry training provider, is giving the government a $50 million headache as it struggles to resolve a host of issues. But it is not the only problem in the tertiary education sector: ministers are wrestling with similar issues at Lincoln University.
Lincoln’s student numbers are down and James McWha, ex Massey, has been appointed to manage the place while a long-term solution is found. Several universities, including Otago and Massey, are contemplating a take-over.
A cheaper, faster solution might be to restore it as Lincoln College, a constituent college of Canterbury University, returning Lincoln to its roots as a high-end agri-business, food and plant technology institution. But that’s all too obvious and Lincoln may slip through Canterbury’s hands without a sustained effort from Christchurch itself, led by Mayor Lianne Dalziel.
Last week the government said it plans to put a commissioner in charge at financially troubled Unitec. Education Minister Chris Hipkins, reporting that the Auckland Institute of Technology was facing a shortfall of around $19m this year and $27m next year if no changes are made, notified the existing Unitec council he intended to dissolve it and appoint a commissioner to address the financial difficulties.
He gave the council 21 days to respond before the decision is finalised, saying:
“Our message for students is that the government is committed to ensure top quality vocational education and training is available at Unitec and they should have every confidence that its financial issues will be addressed.”
The decision was made after consultation on the proposal to dissolve the council and appoint a commissioner. Hipkins said there had been 23 submissions on the proposal.
Unitec interim chief executive Merran Davis previously said the institute had been affected by declining student numbers and spending on modernising Unitec’s buildings, teaching and learning, and systems.
Spending was now largely complete and the organisation had no debt following the sale of surplus land earlier this year.