To others, including many influencers (many of them university-educated outside Hawke’s Bay), EIT, whatever its acknowledged achievements, is nonetheless a reminder of something our region lacks … a full-fledged university. Which of these views should prevail? What do they do and offer at EIT anyway?

The reality

As it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, EIT’s mission is to “provide high quality, relevant and accessible tertiary education for the well-being of diverse communities”.

Today, 7,815 students are studying at EIT in Hawke’s Bay … a small army. [Note: EIT now includes the Tairawhiti Campus in Gisborne, which adds another 2,400 students.]

EIT has had no problem attracting its full complement of students, in fact exceeding government funding and seat caps (meaning EIT must itself fund the education of students accepted over the ‘capped’ level). Typically there are waiting lists to enroll in some programmes, although CEO Chris Collins says, “we’ve never turned away a student.”

Every four years, EIT is externally evaluated by the NZ Qualifications Authority. In the review just completed, EIT was awarded the highest rankings possible – Highly Confident for Educational Performance and Its Capability to Self-Assess. Effectively, A+.

Further, in the latest government evaluation of its research performance (PBRF ranking), EIT ranked second amongst all institutes of technology in the country. EIT achieved a higher percentage of the top ranked researchers than any other institute of technology, and prolifically generates research papers, articles, books and presentations.

Clearly EIT is highly regarded by its education peers. It is an educational institution for which Hawke’s Bay can be duly proud.

All the more so when one looks at the nature of EIT’s student body, which of course reflects Hawke’s Bay’s demographic base. More than 70% of EIT’s students – one of the highest rates in the country – fall within one of the government’s ‘Priority Learner Groups’. These are categories deemed highest priority for educational advancement – Maori, Pasifika and youth under age 25. The government expects us to “close the outcome gap” between these groups and the general student population, says Mark Oldershaw, EIT’s relatively new deputy chief executive. “Given our high Maori population, this is an important part of our future as a region,” adds Collins.

With an annual budget just over $60 million, EIT spends a bit over $12,000 for each equivalent full-time student. About 67% of revenue comes from government (with no government inflation adjustment for the past four years); 24% from student fees.

The perception of most in the community is that EIT, as a ‘technical institute’ is mainly focused on foundation and trade employment-related certificate programmes. And indeed, most of the student population (62%) is studying in qualification Levels 1-6.

Business people around the Bay give EIT high marks for building close relationships with regional employers, providing successful pathways to employment through programmes like the Trades Academy (in partnership with 19 area secondary schools) and the Youth Guarantee scheme (which provides added support to Levels 1-3 foundation students). EIT is one of the nation’s largest providers of these two programmes – with 292 students and 278 students respectively.

Chris Collins, CEO and Mark Oldershaw, Deputy Chief Executive

“Skills drive economic development … We are the central training provider,” says Oldershaw, “and the stakeholders recognise that very much.”

Hastings councillor Jacoby Poulain, who sits on the EIT Council (governance body), comments: “EIT prides itself on developing strong partnerships with industry, employers and the community. These relationships are purposed to position graduates for strong employment outcomes and to assist industry and our community with skilled labour.”

But while EIT is nationally recognised as a leader in school-to-work programmes, the picture is more complex, as the chart above, showing distribution of students by programme level, illustrates.

What might surprise many is that the single largest area of programme provision at EIT is Level 7 – degree level – with 38% of all students. EIT offers degrees in 13 programmes (see sidebar, p39), as well as four master’s degrees (including one of the few nursing master’s degree in New Zealand), and awarded 383 degrees in 2014, led by 192 nursing degrees. “People don’t understand that,” says Collins. “They think if you want a degree or post-grad you’ve got to go away to a university.”

And EIT’s degree graduates are successful. Staff tracking indicates that all early childhood graduates from 2013 and 2014 are working in ECE, and 70% of nursing graduates had secured RN positions within three months of graduating. In recent years seven of the eight finalists for the New Zealand Young Viticulturist of the Year award studied at EIT, as did the 2014 winner, Paul Robinson.

As Chris Collins observes, EIT is “two schools in one”, providing foundation, applied vocational, professional and higher education programmes that cater to Hawke’s Bay’s clearly established and diverse needs across the tertiary education spectrum. And both types of students and programmes are required to make the economics of the institution work. EIT is strong and viable because it covers the full range, with sufficient students numbers in some programmes to enable support of other programmes with fewer students.

Reflecting back on its mission statement – “to “provide high quality, relevant and accessible tertiary education for the well-being of diverse communities” – EIT appears to deliver well … high quality, relevant, accessible, diverse programmes.

Should EIT offer more?

At the end of the day, no formal stricture prevents EIT from offering whatever academic programmes for which there is demonstrated sustainable student and industry demand. Legislatively, “there’s nothing we can’t do … we can offer the full range” says Collins.

Indeed, theoretically, EIT could offer more degrees – in history, physics, anthropology, whatever – but it would require a change in legislation and an Act of Parliament to be rebranded as ‘EIT University’. “We have the name protected”, he comments. AUT University in Auckland (formerly Auckland Institute of Technology) is the model for such evolution.

“One of our goals for some years has been to provide as wide a range of vocational and academic portfolio as possible so people do not have to leave the region,” says Collins. “There are some more specialist areas where people are going to have to leave town … If there are programmes that would be educationally and financially viable, we will run those programmes.”

That said, the government allocates the funding cap for each institution and agrees to an approved ‘mix of provision’ of programmes that each institution offers. So if EIT did wish to offer quantum physics, it would not necessarily get government funding for that programme unless EIT could demonstrate clear evidence of local community and industry demand.

And practically, the ‘chicken and egg’ issue is critical mass – the numbers of students are simply not there to support a still wider programme offering … let alone a law or engineering school.

Still, “We need a university!” is a refrain often heard in Hawke’s Bay influencer circles. During the amalgamation debate, for example, A Better Hawke’s Bay offered a ‘blueprint’ with this proposition:

“There is scope … to facilitate a university campus being setup in Hawke’s Bay, possibly in conjunction with EIT. At the moment Massey University has campuses in Wellington and Auckland as well as its main campus in Palmerston North. With Hawke’s Bay’s huge wealth of natural resources and some of the best food production in the world it makes a lot of sense for an agriculturally focused university to be attracted here. While Massey or Lincoln are obvious contenders, some of the Australian, US and UK-based universities are all looking to expand and we should be looking to bring them here.

“Not only does a university campus in Hawke’s Bay give an option for our young people to stay here after school, but it will bring in a flood of other people; students and academic staff will all want to move to Hawke’s Bay to conduct research, study and work while enjoying our fantastic weather and lifestyle.”

An attractive aspiration … but a fantasy?

Collins notes a couple of perceptual issues.

First, many current influencers would have gone to school when only universities offered degrees and polytechnics just provided lower level trades training. Polytechnics have only been in the degree and post-grad space for the last 10-15 years; it’s a different world now and that’s not fully comprehended.

Second, he uses the historical English example of towns and cathedrals. In a past era, to think of yourself as significant as a town, you needed to have a cathedral. It seems today the university is the cathedral. “There’s a symbolic aspect to it. If we have our own university, we must be significant as a region.”

We all commonly know of this as ‘cathedral envy’.

The ship has sailed

Unfortunately, the university ship has sailed, leaving Hawke’s Bay waving from the dock. Some blame this outcome on the inability of competing Hastings and Napier to agree upon a location when the prospect was on the table, but that’s another story.

However much community leaders and wistful parents might pine for a Hawke’s Bay University, that is simply not going to happen. At least not financed from the taxpayers’ purse.

Successive governments have signaled clearly that “no additional universities will be created in New Zealand, anywhere,” says Collins. Indeed, he suggests that fewer universities might be in the cards, given financial realities. He picks Lincoln to go. Plus, the government forecasts up to an 8% drop in tertiary students over the next five or so years.

Moreover, under existing legislation, if EIT were to become a university, it would need to drop all the programmes it provides in the foundation and training/trades areas, leaving a gaping unmet need in the region – 70% of school leavers don’t go to university.

The fallback option, establishing a Hawke’s Bay ‘outpost’ of another existing university, has been tried but failed. Massey in fact ‘inherited’ a small campus back in the mid-90’s on Prebensen Drive in Napier and attempted to make a go of its satellite presence. However, the overhead costs were simply too high in comparison to the small student base that materialized. Programmes were dropped one by one and the Massey presence has disappeared other than through extramural distance provision.

However, stopping short of a university, perhaps a more viable option could be a dedicated ‘centre of excellence’ aligned with EIT.

This opportunity might be presented by the Government’s recently announced interest in creating 2-3 ‘Regional Research Institutes’, allocating $25 million toward this purpose. The institutes would be public/private partnerships, requiring commercial entities or private sponsors/benefactors to be involved.
In response to this announcement of potential financial largesse, EIT recently hosted a group of stakeholders – councils and private sector players – interested in advancing a proposal to Government focused on lifting the productivity bar for Hawke’s Bay’s agricultural sector (with a likely initial emphasis on horticulture).

Such an institute – perhaps housed at EIT – might be seen as a ‘centre of excellence’ dedicated to improving farming practices in Hawke’s Bay via original applied research and identification of pertinent ‘best practices’ and technologies (scanning globally), and then delivering practical advice and training to the region’s farmers and growers. “The hands-on and private partnership model of the polytechnic fits really well here,” says Oldershaw.

“EIT would absolutely be up for hosting a facility like that,” adds Collins. “We would facilitate making it happen, providing space … we’d go for it, we’d contribute to it. But it has to have a strong private sector interest behind it.”

Other initiatives

EIT, competing against tertiary institutions throughout New Zealand, aims to increase its share of international students. These very valuable students pay their own way; full fare, so to speak. It’s presently a $2 billion industry. International students represent a way for EIT to bolster its revenue at a time when government funding has flatlined. The government does not cap the number of international students; and instead wants to double their numbers.

In 2014 international students at EIT numbered more than 700, representing 49 different countries. To stimulate interest, EIT operates an India Liaison Office in India (in collaboration with UCOL) and in 2014 launched an Auckland International Campus offering English language, ICT and business studies to foreign students – because up to 65% of international students remain in Auckland.

EIT hopes that its Auckland beachhead, important to grow in its own right, can also serve to entice foreign students to try a Hawke’s Bay education. Both execs realize this is a tough sell … “Mumbai is a bit different than Auckland, let alone Hastings!”

Further, EIT has formal working arrangements with ten institutions in China, India, Germany and South Korea. For example, working with the Hastings District Council, EIT has developed cooperative programmes with China’s Shandong Province with respect to student exchange and viticulture education.

Closer to home, EIT takes seriously its commitment to meeting the tertiary education needs of the Maori community – 36% of EIT HB students are Maori, well above the regional population percentage; 65% in Tairawhiti. With high Maori participation rates achieved, EIT plans to focus more on quality and outcomes. As the 2014 Annual Report notes: “further work is required to ensure greater Maori student success in programmes, and this has been identified as a key institutional priority going forward.”

About to start his twelfth year at EIT, Chris Collins sees the key challenges as maintaining critical mass, growing the international student base and overseas and industry partnerships, and doing better with EIT’s Maori population. Mark Oldershaw adds that the education environment is fast changing, and EIT must constantly strive to be relevant and top of mind to both students and its employer partners.

The fact is, we have an important, highly achieving, multi-dimensional educational institution hidden away in Taradale (people don’t see us, muses Collins). One that’s nationally recognised and highly regarded by its peers outside Hawke’s Bay; but perhaps under-appreciated as an asset by us locals, looking for more glamour. A sturdy VW; not a flash BMW.

The Stephen Stills lyrics come to mind:

If you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with
You gotta love the one you’re with

Don’t be angry, don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
Well there’s a girl sitting right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do

Maybe our community should celebrate EIT more.

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1 Comment

  1. A fully fledged university down in central Hawkes Bay instead of that bloody dam would have done wonders for the region. It would allow accommodation for students and staff at an astonishingly lower price than any other city anywhere in NZ. Much lower housing costs can be balanced off against wages etc and this can flow through to course fees. A university would attract food retailers, health care, housing providers, entertainment interests, transport operators (into Hastings or down to Palmy) and on and on . You would actually get major NZ entertainers playing in (for example, Waipawa) if you opened a university down there. That is much more interesting than gumboot sellers, tractor mechanics and effluent disposal. And as a bonus education centres attract a lot of ongoing government money. The regions are being screwed by the old lets get into farming development schemes. They have had their day. They were your grand-dads get rich quick schemes. Farming is not 21st century development, but there are other modern day investments just crying out for someone with some vision to promote.

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