Otago Polytechnic is going from strength to strength -
student numbers have grown for two years running and the
institution is making surpluses large enough to invest in new
buildings. Otago Daily Times tertiary education
reporter Vaughan Elder talks to chief executive Phil Ker
about the year ahead and how the polytechnic plans to
continue its recent run of success.
While Otago Polytechnic has often lived in the shadow of
its much larger neighbour, in recent years it has been
outperforming the University of Otago when it comes to
enrolments, with two consecutive years of growth and a third
expected this year.
By the end of this year, 4220 equivalent full-time students
(Efts) were expected at the polytechnic and Mr Ker was keen
to see that number continue to grow.
In order to stay an attractive option for students, the
polytechnic had begun a building programme aimed at
refreshing its campus.
The programme started at the end of last year with the
commencement of the $10 million to $12 million learning link
project, which involved building an atrium linking the
polytechnic's F and H blocks and transforming the ground
floor of both buildings into a ''student hub''.
New buildings, such as the learning link, were needed to meet
the expectations of students who came to the city from
outside Dunedin, Mr Ker said.
''We have to keep investing in making our campus attractive,
to bring people here.''
This was especially true given the number of students who
came to the polytechnic from outside Otago.
''I'm not sure that a lot of Dunedin people appreciate that
for Otago Polytechnic, 40% plus of our learners come from
''That's by far and away the highest proportion in the whole
sector. So we are attractive to people elsewhere in New
Zealand and we have to keep it that way.''
Compliance work on the learning link had been completed over
the summer break and work on ''more exciting'' aspects of the
project would continue this year - with work on other parts
of the campus to start once that was finished in 2015 or
''We have two more major projects that ... complete a
modernising of the campus and really future-proofing it.''
The next two projects were modernising the polytechnic's Art
School and enhancing its trades facilities.
Being able to invest in new buildings depended on running
surpluses, and on that front the polytechnic had a ''revenue
diversification strategy'', which it was pursuingThis
involved growing its ''open learning'' and online learning
operation, expanding its Auckland campus and ''scaling up''
its applied research and knowledge transfer teams.
The polytechnic was investing a lot in curriculum development
for both its open learning business, Capable NZ, which
accessed skills people gained on the job, and for online
''Its really good for the polytechnic that we do get into
those new markets.''
Mr Ker expected the commercial design and development centre
innovation workSpace, which specialised in ''knowledge
transfer'', would soon outgrow its facility.
''[Expansion of the facility] was inevitable with the growth
trajectory they are on.''
The Auckland campus, targeted only at the international
market, took on its first students in August 2012 and was
already proving more popular than expected.
''That exceeded its first intake targets by a long shot and
we are already budgeting for doubling the operation this year
over last and at this stage we are thinking it will more than
''We will, in all likelihood, be looking to expand the campus
by year end.''
It was also running an international ''innovation tour''
where staff, subsidised by the polytechnic, were travelling
to leading North American companies, to see how they
generated fresh ideas.
The tour was part of a push for greater innovation at the
''We really value innovation ... and since we have been
making good surpluses we have been able to set aside
significant funding to run with innovative ideas, knowing
that they won't all work, but it doesn't matter.''
The polytechnic was working on becoming more sustainable,
which involved looking at reducing air travel and its
information technology footprint.
''We have already done one of the big things, which was
shifting the coal burner to woodchip; that's caused a massive
reduction in our carbon footprint.''