The government is throwing millions at fee-free tertiary education but there’s no cash to spare for training future farmers:
Federated Farmers board member Chris Lewis said the liquidation of Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre a month ago was the latest sign that the government needed to overhaul certificate-level tertiary education for staff in the primary industries.
“This has been an issue for a long, long time. A lot of providers have come into the industry and set up training but a lot of them have left or have struggled and at the end of the day it comes back down to it’s not financially viable to run training for young farm staff because they don’t get enough funding from the government.”
Mr Lewis said there was a shortage of trained farm staff and some courses did not provide the skills that farmers needed in their workers.
Craig Musson from the National Trade Academy said few tertiary institutions were still offering certificates in skills for land-based industries and those that were, were struggling.
He said too few students were enrolling and government funding was inadequate for the costs involved.
“In our sector it’s not a classroom, white board and a teacher. You have to have tractors, motorbikes, quads. You’ve got to have fencing, you’ve got to have stock and with all that comes repairs and maintenance and replacement of equipment and a normal business doesn’t have those same costs,” he said.
Mr Musson said the government paid about $10,000 for each full-time agriculture student studying a certificate course and institutions received a further $3000 to $4000 in fees.
That was not enough given the small class sizes and high overheads for courses in farming skills and it was especially hard if students dropped out and could not be replaced, he said.
Mr Musson said more education providers would go out of business unless things improved.
“It’s obviously just getting more and more difficult for the providers that are left and eventually it becomes that it’s not financially viable to do the training any more,” he said.
“You only have to have a bad year as far as feed costs and then you’ve got fuel costs because we have to travel to farms to do the milkings, we have to do field visits and that’s a massive cost that most providers would not have either.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said changes would be made as part of wider reform of the vocational education and training system and the government was aware there was urgent need in the agriculture sector.
“We’re looking very closely at the agricultural sector given its importance to the New Zealand economy, the desperate need for more skilled labour in that area, but actually the problems facing agriculture are the same as problems facing many other industries around the country so we’re looking very closely at vocational education generally,” he said. . .
Neal Wallace says a new training model is needed:
. . .By its very nature educating primary sector students is more expensive and intensive than other vocational courses.
It requires students to live on working farms, to be given a student-centric education – you can’t teach fencing on a blackboard – and it comes with high compliance and pastoral care costs. Taratahi had a ratio of one staff member to 10 students.
But it appears to have finally succumbed to the millennial factor.
Fewer young people are choosing farming as a career, while numbers of potential students have shrunk because of successive years of low unemployment allowing those who would normally seek training to go directly in to work.
Telford and Taratahi have struggled to grow their rolls in recent years and are required to repay the Tertiary Education Commission $10 million for being funded for more students than were enrolled.
Not dismissing the obvious distress to students and staff, collapsing on the eve of Taratahi’s centenary adds to the misery.
But its centennial legacy, from what can best be described as an educational train wreck, is that Government and education officials can no longer ignore the essential issue of creating a sustainable sub-degree funding and administrative model for primary sector education.
Tina Nixon also notes two fundamental problems with the future success of primary sector vocational training:
The government: The present government [and those of the past] has never really understood the sector, the cost of training or really got to grips with the woeful performance of the Tertiary Education Commission [TEC], the body that decides what will be funded and how.
This became patently evident when I first became involved with Taratahi.
I suggested that it got into training beekeepers, which, as it turns out, has been lucrative.
The process for actually delivering beekeeping courses took months – TEC should be geared up alongside NZQA to get ahead of industry demand but it doesn’t – they lag at least a year, sometimes a lot longer.
TEC is without a doubt one of the most bureaucratic organisations I have ever interacted with, and I have worked with a few.
It has not served the country and its governments well. I applaud the current government for looking to overhaul the tertiary sector, but I condemn it for the short-sightedness about how best that overhaul is carried out.
If the TEC and its current administration survive the next year, then this government will have failed the sector.
The government’s decision not to fund Taratahi was based on advice from TEC — behind closed doors with no chance for Taratahi to talk directly to the ministers involved.
So, Taratahi doesn’t even know what was presented – but the $30m touted by some as what was required for the organisation to continue is wrong. What they needed was $5 million – pretty much the same amount it had repaid of the previous administration’s legacy debt. . .
A request for just $5 million was turned down when the Provincial Growth Fund showers much more on far less worthy projects.
So what of the future?
If the community leaders consign all that has been learned and achieved by Taratahi in 2-1/2 years into the dustbin, then they will be condemned to creating yet another failure and snub some of the best educationists in the industry.
What we need to see is Taratahi rise again in the next few months – underpinned by all the good systems and knowledge built up in the past two years, within a newly-framed tertiary education sector with the required funding levels. With all that in place, it will become an enduring engine room for primary sector talent development.
The primary sector can do some on-the-job training but that is no substitute for what can be done in dedicated training institutes like Taratahi and Telford if they are properly funded.