Keeping up in a time of change and growth

Central Campus head of school Alex Huffadine. Photo: ODT files
Central Campus head of school Alex Huffadine. Photo: ODT files
The head of school at the Otago Polytechnic’s Central Campus in Cromwell says he still gets a thrill out of working with those who are learning or beginning a new stage in their life. Pam Jones talks to Alex Huffadine about education, development and how to enjoy your days off.

The  Otago Polytechnic's Central Campus is expanding steadily as the number of residents in Central Otago increases. As head of school in Cromwell, what is it like to observe the changes?

Great - change and growth is terrific for us and this period represents the biggest change since we opened in 1987. That said, the region is growing and needs to have tertiary provision to cater for that region-wide growth.

What benefits will things like your new student accommodation and the construction of a new trades academy bring to the Central Campus?

We have a new strategic plan that looks to grow student numbers from around 200 now to 350 in the next three years. The 350 students represents around 1200 enrolments for both full and part-time students. The developments we are implementing are reflecting the growth we are forecasting. With accommodation, we can't ignore the fact that growth is happening rapidly in our communities.

With the trades build, I think everyone understands where we are heading. We have 12 trades on offer at the campus. All of these are underpinned by strong demand from industry. Our new trades building that houses carpentry, automotive and craft brewing reflects this, and provides a wonderful facility to learn in.

What do the students think? Is there a typical profile of the Central Otago student?

The feedback is good, and a good measure is the feedback from them and the employers we work closely with.

A typical student profile is that there isn't one. We have students aged from 17-70 on campus. What is typical is the focus these students bring. They are keen to learn and bring a strong desire to pass and gain excellent employment from the contacts the programmes offer here.

International students are now over 20% of our student mix. They're great and bring a whole new dynamic to our campus and communities.

Is it invigorating working with those who are learning and beginning a new stage of their life?

Absolutely, that's why we do it. No point teaching if this isn't one of your core values. The nice thing for us in a tertiary setting is we get to see the students post-graduation quite regularly. In fact many of the students of the past are the employers we work with today.

I'm always grateful for the team we have here. There's great talent in the polytechnic staff. The students have great opportunities here, generally with small classes where they get great contact with great staff. We don't have classes of 100!

What else is on the way for the Cromwell campus?

The first manager of the campus in Central, Shirley MacAlister, had a strong ethic of ensuring we should focus on delivering programmes for the region. I think that ethos is alive and well at the campus still. In reality, local founded programmes will always cater for the region. What's changed is these local programmes are also sometimes unique and have wide appeal to New Zealanders and international students as well.

Coming in February is a raft of brewing programmes, the shift of all outdoor pursuits programmes from Dunedin, Applied Management programmes for international students and higher level programmes in turf management and horticulture. Alongside this we are redeveloping all of the facilities and building a new campus operation at our Bannockburn Road site. We will continue to develop accommodation to help the ever-increasing number of students coming to us. We will be looking for additional English language delivery in the next few months to support our international learners.

It is an incredibly dynamic time for us, but it is setting the platform for growth that has been coming for the past few years. It's very exciting!

Off-campus, what occupies your time?

Central Lakes Trust (I am a trustee) has been a focus. I've really enjoyed the governance role and the difference the funding CLT has been able to provide our communities. I'm keen on sport: tennis, hunting, biking. We have a farm near Cromwell and this allows me to continue my real interest in cherry production. This is a great area to bring up a family, and it is growing fast. My wife Karen and I have been here a long time, and this is without the most rapid growth we have both seen. All the communities are growing rapidly in the region, and I like the variety this has brought to us all.

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