Otago, Victoria universities consider collaborating

Helen Nicholson. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Helen Nicholson. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The University of Otago is investigating teaming up with another financially struggling university as both investigate cutting courses.

However, the Government has shot down a call from Victoria University of Wellington for extra funding to help it collaborate with Otago.

University of Otago acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said it was sensible to consider collaborating with Victoria University — both institutions are facing extensive staff and course cuts.

"Because of the financial challenges our institutions face, the University of Otago and Victoria University [of] Wellington are having discussions about the potential to co-ordinate some of the teaching that we currently provide," she said.

Asked what co-ordinated teaching might look like, Prof Nicholson said it was early days and no details had been worked through.

"What we are saying is that we believe there is an opportunity for all universities to collaborate and work much more closely together than we have before."

Some subjects might need to be offered at all universities if there was enough demand, she said.

However, there might be "some subject areas that not all universities needed to teach".

She did not say when any combined approach might take effect.

Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) acting chief executive Gillian Dudgeon said Victoria University had queried the availability of additional funding for a collaboration.

The TEC was only able to fund universities at set rates based on the number of students enrolled, she said.

"We advised that was not within the TEC’s powers as the current funding system does not allow for this.

"Decisions around future changes to the funding system are the responsibility of the minister."

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said there was nothing to stop a collaboration between universities under the current funding model. While it was not common, some already did so.

She emphasised the Government announcement last week of a bailout for universities that was estimated to boost the University of Otago by an extra $21 million over the next two years.

"We also committed to a review of the funding system.

"It makes sense that we have that review before looking at any changes to the current funding system."

Victoria University vice-chancellor Prof Nic Smith said the institution would continue discussions with the TEC and the Ministry of Education about providing incentives to collaborate.

These could be incorporated into the forthcoming sector funding review as options for the medium term, he said

"We are working with Otago University to explore options to retain programmes that could support students and staff at both institutions in a financially sustainable way.

"Both universities are supportive of the goal and working hard to find viable options."

Otago University Students’ Association president Quintin Jane said universities were looking for innovative ways to solve their problems and the TEC’s response was disheartening.

Any way to soften the blow of the funding crisis the university was facing would be a good thing.

"What I’d hate to see is the universities all focusing on one niche and losing other areas that might not be their dominant area of focus."