Our community rightly takes great pride in the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT). It has for 115 years provided the skills and qualifications for Nelson to succeed. I am very worried about the Government’s announcement last week to force NMIT into a mega merger with all 16 Polytechnics around the country.
This radical plan takes control away from NMIT’s Council made up of Nelson industry, community and student representatives. It will instead be run by Wellington bureaucrats. It will be less independent, less responsible and less innovative. Centralisation will over time mean fewer training programmes and fewer staff in Nelson.
NMIT is currently one of New Zealand’s most successful technical institutions. The Nursing and Maritime Schools are internationally recognised for excellence. The innovative programmes in aquaculture, viticulture, aviation, tourism and horticulture are vital to the region. The commerce and business degree and diploma programmes are superb.
NMIT is also financially strong. It has about $20 million in reserves and assets of $100 million. It has run a surplus in eight of the last 10 years and is budgeting another surplus this year. Education Minister Chis Hipkins justifies his “Think Big” polytechnic plan on the basis that some are in financial trouble. The irony is that the institution in the most difficulty is the biggest – Auckland’s UNITEC. It is also unfair that the Government is nationalising NMIT when the original Nelson Technical School land in Hardy Street was provided by the Nelson City Council and funded by ratepayers.
This state takeover of NMIT is driven by Labour’s philosophy that big Government agencies, directly controlled by Minister’s, know best. My experience as Minister of Education was that the closer decisions were made to students, the better they worked for students. I got far better advice on education policy from my local Nelson principals than from Ministry officials. NMIT Chief Executive Liam Sloane knows his 340 staff, our community, our businesses and is in constant contact with students. The new Chief Executive calling the shots from Wellington in the nationwide merged institute will have 15,000 staff and will know very little about Nelson’s training needs or students.
Labour has no mandate for gutting regional polytechnics. It was never part of their Education Policy. They misled institutions like NMIT last year by saying any changes being considered in this process would only affect struggling Polytechnics. This centralisation is the opposite of the Coalition Agreement with NZ First promising to shift decision making out to the regions.
National is keen to engage with Nelson on the fate of NMIT, and the similar changes proposed for schools that centralise decision making. We see potential for positive reform, like improving the funding model for schools and polytechnics, but change must be for the better. I have invited our Education spokespeople, Hon Nikki Kaye and Dr Shane Reti to a public meeting next Monday at 4.30pm at my Electorate office. Please join us. The future of education is the future of Nelson.