Future of Zero Fees Scheme in the spotlight

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

FEES may be introduced to several previously free courses at the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) as Te Pukenga looks to unify numerous programmes across its network from 2023.

The merger of 16 New Zealand institutions including SIT into the mega institution Te Pukenga in 2020 saw a degree of controversy in the leadup, including a co-ordinated ‘Stand up SIT’ campaign rallying against the merger, which prompted a visit to Invercargill from Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

The merger went ahead and was followed by multiple resignations of polytechnic chief executives throughout the country, including SIT’s former chief executive Penny Simmonds, who is now an MP and National’s tertiary education spokesperson.

Te Pukenga deputy chief executive delivery Dr Angela Beaton said existing fee strategies across their network would continue for 2023 while overall fee unification work continued.

‘‘We have not yet resolved the longer-term future of Zero Fees enrolments at SIT where tuition fees are not collected, but for this to continue we would need to ensure it is financially viable.

‘‘When the SIT Zero Fees scheme was formed, it received one-off startup funding from the Southland community to achieve broad regional development objectives. We will be working with the current board and leadership of SIT to resolve this issue.’’

Ms Simmonds said the introduction of fees to SIT would negatively impact student enrolment, which would in turn impact local businesses.

‘‘It’s a little bit bizarre to have the Regional Skills Leadership group last week putting out the plan saying there’s shortages in all these areas, when another arm of government is going to ensure there’s even more shortages down here.

‘‘It was always a fear for SIT that this was going to happen. And at the meeting in 2019, when the Minister [Hipkins] was down, the community tried to get him to give his assurance that Zero Fees wouldn’t go, and he gave a bit of a half-hearted assurance.

‘‘I believe the minister has been misleading in his comments about Zero Fees staying at SIT, because in fact they are not. It is not going to stay for any programme that is unified, and eventually most, if not all programs, will be unified.’’

Existing programmes at Te Pukenga institutions will be selected and updated with the intention that all new learners will enrol in the unified programmes, from a to-beconfirmed unified delivery date, which includes programmes in areas such as hairdressing, beauty, barber and massage, hospitality and tourism, primary industries, and trades.

Three unified nursing programmes will also roll out at the beginning of 2023: Bachelor of Nursing —Maori, Bachelor of Nursing — Pacific, and Bachelor of Nursing.

Invercargill Labour list MP Liz Craig said as the longer-term situation for SIT’s Zero Fees had yet to be resolved, it was her understanding that Zero Fees would continue to be available in 2023.

Minister Hipkins also said existing fee strategies would continue for 2023 at least.

“I am advised Te Pukenga continues to meet regularly with its SIT subsidiary about a range of issues, and it is my expectation that SIT’s Zero Fees Scheme are included in these discussions.”

SIT acting chief executive Daryl Haggerty acknowledged that discussions between SIT leadership and Te Pukenga were ongoing.

– It’s a little bit bizarre to have the Regional Skills Leadership group last week putting out the plan saying there’s shortages in all these areas, when another arm of government is going to ensure there’s even more shortages down here. –