Challenges, success for tertiary institutes

Work is continuing on Otago Polytechnic’s new Trades Training Centre, which is expected to open...
Work is continuing on Otago Polytechnic’s new Trades Training Centre, which is expected to open next year. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Among the ups and downs of 2021, the South’s tertiary providers have continued to support learners while battling against financial challenges and the impacts of Covid-19. Daisy Hudson takes a look back at the year that was, and the busy times ahead in 2022.

It has been another huge year of change for the South’s tertiary institutions.

Lockdowns, mandates, major capital projects, have all added to the already busy day-to-day running of the providers, along with planning for the merger of New Zealand’s polytechnics.

The University of Otago spent much of the year with an interim leader, after the departure of vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne in April.

Prof Hayne, who had been in the role for a decade, left to take up a position as vice-chancellor at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

Prof Helen Nicholson filled in for the rest of the year, and the new vice-chancellor, Prof David Murdoch, will take over early this year.

Prof Nicholson had plenty to keep her busy during her short tenure in the top job.

The university once again had to grapple with the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, hit hard by the continued lack of international students.

It expected fewer than 1000 international students in 2022.

That was 52.7% of the number of international students in 2019, representing a decline in tuition income of $16.4 million since then.

Budget forecasts were also affected by the substantial unplanned costs associated with leasing office space for about 500 staff and study space for 1000 students who were moved out of the Wellington campus’ main academic block in August because of its low seismic rating.

Its financial challenges culminated in a call for redundancies in September.

It is yet to announce how many staff responded to that call, and how many redundancies will be confirmed.

Another lockdown last year meant a return to distance learning, with the university coming under fire from some quarters over perceived confusion about requirements.

Both the university and Otago Polytechnic confirmed Covid-19 vaccinations would be mandated in their facilities this year, while Southern Institute of Technology was awaiting board approval for its policy.

The current dean and head of campus at University of Otago, Christchurch, Dunedin-born Prof David...
The current dean and head of campus at University of Otago, Christchurch, Dunedin-born Prof David Murdoch has been selected as the next University of Otago vice-chancellor. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Covid-19 also once again impacted graduations, with many cancelled or postponed until this year.

The polytechnic sector underwent another major shakeup last year.

All sixteen of the country’s polytechnics became subsidiaries of Te Pukenga, a new national training and skills entity, in April.

This year work on its operating model is expected to ramp up, with more than 1300 pieces of feedback on the proposed model recently received and shared with the Te Pukenga board.

Among the challenges for tertiary providers last year were some major successes.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment announced the Institute of Environmental Science and Research and the university will lead the development of an "infectious diseases research platform".

Funded by a $36 million grant, it will support the development of capability and technology to help New Zealand’s fight against Covid-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics.

University staff continued to play a significant role in the Covid-19 response last year.

There are 25 university staff at present in formal roles on government advisory boards, and academics such as Prof Michael Baker have become household names through their epidemiological work.

Distinguished Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman and researchers at the Housing and Health Research Programme at the University of Otago, Wellington, were awarded the 2021 Rutherford Medal, New Zealand’s top research honour, for their groundbreaking research into the impact of housing interventions on residents’ health and wellbeing.

The inaugural Six60 scholars were also announced, moving into the band’s former Castle St flat this year to study music.

Several major capital projects will also transform the city’s campuses this year.

Otago Polytechnic’s $31.7 million Trades Training Centre is due to be completed at the end of 2022, while work continues on the university’s $100 million residential college Te Rangihiroa, expected to open in 2023.

A new wing will be added to Aquinas College, ready for students at the start of 2023, and strengthening, fire safety, and accessibility work will take place at Arana and Studholme colleges.

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