Building, farming polytech’s salvation

Otago Polytechnic. Photo: ODT files
Otago Polytechnic. Photo: ODT files
A rush to primary sector and construction industry training has spurred a 49% increase in domestic enrolments at Otago Polytechnic as Covid-19-related job losses and Government recovery funding buoys technology institutes and polytechnics nationwide.

In Dunedin, the increased domestic demand has helped Otago Polytechnic erase a $13 million hole that falling international student numbers had put in its budget, chief executive Megan Gibbons said.

The tertiary education institution was well above its enrolment target for 2021, Dr Gibbons said, and the polytechnic now expected to break even based on 2021 enrolment projections after a $1.6 million surplus in 2019.

Dr Gibbons said demand from domestic students would fill most programme areas at the polytechnic next year, but the July introduction of the Government’s $320 million Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund (TTAF) pushed the polytechnic’s enrolments up significantly.

Domestic applications were at 3601, Dr Gibbons said, up 1180 compared to 2421 at the corresponding time last year.

Slightly more than 700 students had accepted offers of study.

However, international applications were down by 390 from this time in 2019 to 888, from 1278 last year, and because many applicants could not enter the country, Dr Gibbons said the institution was forecasting a bigger drop.

It expected 391 international students next year, the majority of whom were already in the country.

Te Pukenga - New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology chief executive Stephen Town said despite an ‘‘enrolment surge’’ across the country, about 200 polytechnic staff, and several hundred at universities, were expected to lose their jobs in areas significantly affected by the loss of foreign students after New Zealand closed its borders in March.

Nonetheless, across New Zealand early applications for next year’s polytech courses were up 47% from about 30,000 at this time last year to 43,400, mitigating the damage to the sector.

In Auckland, Unitec student recruitment director David Glover said few school-leavers had started training as yet.

Older workers faced with Covid-19-related job losses were making up enrolment numbers, in the same way amid the global financial crisis there was an 11% increase in enrolments at polytechnics and universities between 2008 and 2010.

At the Southern Institute of Technology, TTAF-related student intakes were prompting the school to investigate a "double-stream" of some programmes, a spokeswoman said.

This would require recruiting new staff to support the higher demand, she said.

And though the institute reported an 8% drop in early applications, the spokeswoman said it historically received more applications in the new year after the majority of high school pupils got their NCEA results, and so the institute was not concerned with its numbers.

Mr Town said he expected real growth in national domestic numbers of up to 25%, or about 13,000 equivalent full-time students, which would be offset by a rough halving of last year’s 10,600 international students.

- Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald

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