6 Jun 2017

Taranaki polytech still struggling to perform

9:05 pm on 6 June 2017

Taranaki's largest tertiary education provider has flunked its latest report card.

Western Institute of Technology

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Western Institute of Technology (WITT) failed to meet 12 out of 19 performance commitments it made for a range of government-funded courses last year, according to its 2016 annual report.

As part of its funding deal, the institute made commitments ranging from the number of Māori student enrolments, to course and qualification completion rates, and progression onto further study, among others.

Strategy director Nicola Conley said a New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) report released in February had highlighted issues in educational performance at the institute, which were also reflected in the annual report.

Ms Conley said the institute had identified foundation education and success of Māori learners as focus areas and had allocated resources to support those.

"We are confident this will flow through into improved educational performance commitments in 2017 and beyond."

In its external evaluation review in February, NZQA said it had lost confidence in the quality of education at the polytech and its internal quality-assurance controls.

It downgraded the institute from a category one provider to category three, making it the lowest rated public tertiary education provider in the county.

At the time, the polytech's chairman, Robin Brockie, blamed the poor review on problems with its Māori performing arts programmes, revealed in 2014, when hundreds of qualifications were cancelled and the institute was ordered to repay $4 million in government funding.

On the financial front, a one-off tax refund of $1.36m allowed the polytech to record a wafer-thin surplus of $73,000 for 2016, less than half the $185,000 it made a year earlier.

In 2014, it was in surplus to the tune of almost $400,000.

The 2016 annual report showed the institute had actually made a loss of $1.28m against a budgeted surplus of $797,000, before the tax refund kicked in.

Ms Conley acknowledged the institute would have made a loss if it had not been for the tax credits owing to its subsidiary, the New Zealand Institute of Highway Technologies.

"The institute faced a $1 million reduction in government funding and as a consequence has reviewed its business model to ensure efficiencies are implemented to address profitability," she said.

The institute's cash reserves and term deposits had also fallen about $3.1m to $5.1m, according to the report.

Ms Conley said the institute had used its capital reserves to fund the operating loss and to continue to develop its infrastructure.

In a statement, the Tertiary Education Commission said it had agreed on additional regular reporting requirements for WITT.

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