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Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology NMIT

The Government’s decision to nationalise our Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology into a mega institute of New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics and 11 industry training organisations is huge for Nelson. It’s so important this is an extended column.

Nelson has had an independent polytechnic for 115 years and it is one of New Zealand’s most innovative and successful. It was ranked New Zealand’s top polytechnic in 2018 with high qualification completion rates and excellent job placement figures. It is financially strong with over $20 million in reserves. The co-location of our Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Development Agency at NMIT shows the strength of its links with local businesses. NMIT is not broken and does not need fixing.

NMIT’s importance to Nelson is that it is one of only three major public institutions funded by Government alongside our hospital and the independent Cawthron Institute. We do not, like many other regions, have a university, defence base or prison. NMIT is a critical economic asset that earns Nelson over $40 million a year and which employs 300 Nelsonians. We must jealously guard this.

This mega-merger means Nelson loses control and the good name and brand of NMIT. Its Board is currently made up of 100% locals. The new governance board announced last Friday has no one from Nelson or Marlborough. Our current Chief Executive effectively becomes a branch manager. The Government is taking the assets like the land in Hardy Street that was paid for by Nelson ratepayers.

Labour justifies this radical change saying some institutions are in financial trouble. The bulk of the losses were at one institute – Unitec in Auckland. Why punish well run institutes for the poorly run ones? Why opt for a mega-institute when it is the biggest that is in trouble?

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says there are too many institutions running programmes like training truck drivers, teachers and nurses. Some regions like Nelson will lose these programmes. This ignores that many students have family and other commitments that means they need local programmes.

Labour believes big government is better and more efficient. The Kiwibuild failure shows this ideology is flawed. Over $200 million is planned to be spent on the administration and rebranding costs of the change. This money would be better spent on students and training.

Labour has no mandate for this radical change. It was not mentioned by them at the last election. 80% of public submissions opposed the proposal of a single nationwide polytechnic. Industry Training Organisations say it will “wreck” the system. Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt says it will “rip the heart out of regional New Zealand.”  The Government’s own advisers have warned that these Polytech changes will fail. Treasury says it will cause “extreme workplace disruption” and will have “extreme impacts on regions.”

NMIT leaders are in an awful position. If they criticise the reforms, they undermine the confidence of their staff and students. They put their own jobs at risk. They have chosen to damn it with faint praise. I commend them for their efforts in at least protecting NMIT’s cash reserves.

I have four major concerns. I oppose the loss of local control. I worry there will be fewer local training opportunities and apprenticeships.

I am concerned about the disruption and loss of Nelson jobs. My concern is fewer international students and the loss of their $6 million contribution to Nelson’s economy.

I hate opposition for opposition’s sake. If the Government is doing good I am happy to say so as I did with the PM’s reaction to the Christchurch Mosque attacks. My opposition to this nationalisation of NMIT is that it will be bad for Nelson.  NMIT is not perfect nor is New Zealand’s tertiary education system. I could support positive reforms to the outdated funding system. We need to encourage quality rather than bums on seats.  We should not be replicating course design. We need tighter controls on polytechs setting up outside their region.   We need to put more emphasis on apprenticeships. The answers will not come from centralisation and side lining industry.

I am launching a campaign to save NMIT. I want to retain local decision making, retain local ownership of our assets and to keep industry involved in apprenticeships. Join me in Albion Square, opposite NMIT’s main office, noon next Tuesday 13 August. NMIT is worth fighting for.       

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