Southland Business Leader Slams Education Minister’s Proposal For ITPs

Carla Forbes, creative director and owner of Southland marketing and communications consultancy Market South, former President of the Southland Chamber of Commerce and business leader, is incredulous at the Government’s proposal to merge 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) around New Zealand.

Specifically, that this proposal not only spells the end of the highly successful and popular Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) but will lead to the severe decline of the Southland region.

“I am deeply concerned and to be honest, angry,” she said.

“I’m angry that in the face of decades of underinvestment in the regions, especially Southland, we now have a proposal on our hands that threatens to one of the largest economic drivers in Southland.”

Last week, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a proposal to merge all of New Zealand’s 16 ITPs into a single entity, which would be managed centrally.

It’s a move which is said to have blindsided SIT Chief Executive Penny Simmonds and Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadolt. Simmonds told The Southland Times she was “shell shocked” and Shadbolt said despite assurances from Hipkins in the first round of consultation that SIT had “nothing to worry about” that was now certainly not the case.

Market South is Southland’s largest marketing consultancy servicing a significant number of Southland-based and further afield clients. Forbes said she understood it was an unusual position for her as a business owner to take, but in the face of such a potentially devastating proposal, she felt taking action was the right thing to do.

“Being fortunate to work within the media and marketing industries, I feel I can use my position as a force for good, to advocate for retention of SIT.”

“This isn’t just me speaking as a business owner, but also as a leader and as a person who loves living in Southland.”

Despite there being a consultation period for the proposal, Forbes did not believe the Government would be taking this period seriously.

“This consultation period is a farce. Consultation is politician speak for lip service, but it’s likely the Government has already made its mind up about this. We need to change their mind,” she said.

Forbes had looked through the submission document and was appalled at how prohibitive the process was; the submission document was 36 pages long and consisted of nearly 100 questions.

 

She did not agree the submission document would have reflective response of the Southland psyche because there was “no way” enough people were going to commit hours of their time to fill out a survey, which would therefore lead to a misrepresentation of the affected communities.

The proposal seeks to prop up the failing ITP sector, but SIT was not a failing institution, Forbes said.

“Minister Hipkins has said the ITPs are in financial strife and it has to stop. Let me be clear: SIT has never run a deficit, it has diversified and responded to address changes in funding models and it monitors budgets and expenditure all year round ensuring that it does not spend money it doesn’t have.”

She was concerned about other statements he’d made about ITPs, such as students not achieving good employment outcomes and the new proposal seeking to improve the relationship between the VE sector and local business and community.

“97% of SIT graduates are either in employment or further study, and as far as SIT’s relationships go, it’s one of the most plugged-in organisations in Southland with multiple advisory committees and SIT staff holding significant roles across many boards and businesses.”

Having found itself in a similar position to what many ITPs are experiencing now, SIT made sweeping changes to its model years ago. Forbes believed there was no reason other ITPs couldn’t do the same thing.

“For some, yes, that may look like a merging of institutes. But an overall merger is not the answer and is far from a suitable solution for the everyone,” she said.

“So many people have worked hard to make SIT a success. The model is great, we know it works. I’m sure no one would have a problem with sharing that knowledge with other ITPs, but a merger is not the answer.”

“SIT’s success should not have to shoulder the failure and shortcomings of other institutions who have not been correctly managed or supported.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins will be in Invercargill next week to discuss the proposal at a public meeting. Forbes encourages anyone who could to attend.

“Now is the time for us to rally together and make some noise on this issue. We need to stand up for SIT and let the Government know this proposal puts all our livelihoods at risk.”