SIT’s zero fees could face axe from 2024

Community hub: The Southern Institute of Technology’s main campus on Tay St, Invercargill. Photos: File

It appears the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill will no longer be able to offer free fees once it joins national mega polytechnic Te Pukenga.

During yesterday’s annual review hearing in Wellington, Te Pukenga acting chief executive Peter Winder raised the issue of fees equity across the 16 different institutions the polytechnic will encompass.

The hearing before the education and workforce select committee was a chance for Mr Winder and chairman Murray Strong to answer questions on the problems facing Te Pukenga.

A Tertiary Education Commission report has warned a drop in enrolments meant Te Pukenga’s latest annual deficit could surge to $110 million, $53.5 million more than budgeted.

National’s tertiary education spokeswoman, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds, who was chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology for 23 years, questioned whether fees for unified programmes would be set by Te Pukenga’s head office and, if so, what this would mean for SIT.

Mr Winder said a “unified fee approach” would be taken in future.

“We need to look at the picture of the whole of Te Pukenga and the way in which we approach equity for learners,” he said.

“I personally have some significant difficulty with the proposition that if you happen to enrol in Te Pukenga in Auckland you would pay a different set of fees for the same qualification than if you happen to enrol in Invercargill.”

All current zero-fee courses would remain free next year, but beyond that the situation would be reconsidered, he said.

Ms Simmonds said the South faced a shortage of nurses and she questioned how introducing fees would align with the merger’s goal of being regionally and locally responsive.

An operations model is due to go out for consultation on August 15, providing three weeks for the organisation to gather feedback from those who will come under its umbrella.

The issue of redundancies the merger could cause was also raised by Ms Simmonds, but Mr Winder said these had not been identified.

Te Pukenga’s transition to a national technical institute and industry training organisation is slated to be complete by January 1.