On August 1, Education Minister Chris Hipkins outlined what the Reform of Vocational Educaiton would entail. The Government intends to pass legislation that will merge all of New Zealand’s 16 ITPs (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics). This includes the Southern Institute of Technology.
Despite Southlanders passionately campaigning for the retention of an asset so imperative to the region, our pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
The Reform of Vocational Education proposal outlines several issues within the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP) sector. There’s no denying some ITPs are struggling for various reasons, but the struggles stated as cause for concern by the Minister are not reflective of the whole sector.
This proposal paints a dire picture for Southland. It goes far beyond the loss of a local tertiary education provider – it threatens the region’s economy, diversity, communities, prosperity and culture.
It’s crucial that you understand how big of a player SIT is in the Southland landscape. Not only does it provide education, but it brings people to Southland who otherwise wouldn’t come (vital for regional growth) and is one of Southland’s largest employers.
SIT makes financial contribution of approximately $300,000 every year to Southland. SIT was a major sponsor of the SIT Zero Fees Velodrome and continues to invest in Invercargill with the proposed development of a new Creative Centre. SIT provides jobs for people in the community and both supports and works with and in the local community, local businesses and industry.
Research shows there is significant economic benefits of international education for Southland and Otago. In 2015/16, Southland hosted 1,470 international students. These students not only contributed to the community and cultural vibrancy of the region but also contributed $23.5 million to our local economy and supported 185 jobs above the approximately 350 people employed directly by SIT.
SIT has a unique character and faces specific challenges that are bound up with its relative geographic isolation and a historical legacy that has seen the region it serves disproportionately affected by Government policies that fail to take account of local needs. This is a trend that is in danger of being repeated with some of the Minister’s proposals.
This reform threatens the work put into developing Southland’s identity as synonymous with quality education and community development. SIT and its Zero Fees Scheme have been instrumental in putting Invercargill on the map as a tertiary destination and thus the innovative thinking has always been at the core of SIT’s success. From the launch of the scheme, to high growth in SIT2LEARN and international students, and trending number one on YouTube for its English series (beating out Oxford and Cambridge), SIT has always punched above its weight due to its No. 8 Wire mentality. The scheme and hosting international students have been instrumental in changing the cultural dynamic of our city, providing enrichment to local events and businesses.
If centralisation were to occur, SIT’s Invercargill, Gore, Queenstown and Christchurch campuses will face cut backs and closures, with decisions on their viability and necessity made by people outside of the region. It is important that decisions are made locally with local interests at heart.
“Southland without the Southern Institute of Technology is not a future that will be prosperous for the region. Now is the time to band together and tell the Government that it must rethink its proposal. To take away SIT will lead to the decline of the Southland region.”
— Carla Forbes, campaign creator
Economically, the effects of not having SIT in operation will be devasting. It will lead to:
Job losses for all employed at SIT
Job losses for Southlanders who have to be laid off in the face of a downturned local economy
A rise in unemployment
Loss of students who have transitioned from SIT2LRN and come to Invercargill to study on campus
Population decline, exactly the opposite of the Southland Regional Development Strategy’s (SoRDS) objectives
Population decline will impact council income and general city services will be restricted (impacting our parks, city facilities and services)
Schools enrolments will decline, some even close, which in turn affects other services such as medical clinics
The housing market will slump
Diversity will disappear, our communities will be ripped apart and our cultural offerings will wane
Sports, arts, cultural clubs and churches will lose members
Tourism will be impacted – loss of accommodation means nowhere for people to stay to attend sports and other events so our world class facilities, such as the Stadium and Velodrome, will be under used and they will lose money
Attracting skilled workers to the region will be even more difficult
The funding SIT puts into the community will be lost – the Southland Sharks (basketball), the Southern Steel (netball), Southland Stags (rugby), the Velodrome
Instead of people moving to the regions, people will leave Southland in the face of being unable to find good career opportunities – the exact opposite of Immigration NZ’s initiatives
The issues Minister Hipkins has described are not unfamiliar to SIT. In 2000, SIT’s student enrolments were low, and the institution was facing a tough road ahead.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, SIT decided to stand out from the crowd and launch the Zero Fees scheme. It worked.
You can read a fantastic story about it here from The Southland Times, and how SIT has become an iconic part of the Southland landscape.