Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bitter sweet

Another week almost gone, and what a bitter sweet week it has been. I arrived back from leave very refreshed indeed, and as an added bonus Dunedin was having a warm spell with temperatures not that far off those on the Gold Coast. Come Thursday, mind you, and Dunedin did what only Dunedin can and temperatures plummetted. I lit the fire !!

The week started in the best possible way with the Prime Minister visiting us to announce $12.5m of capital funding as our share of a new $20m design school to be built as a joint venture between Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago. This funding is a real vote of confidence by government for the work being done in design education at Otago Polytechnic, and caps several million dollars of other capital funding which we have received for design education over the last four years. We have a vision for Dunedin as a world class centre for design, the pursuit of which is being passionately led by Alistair Regan, our Group Manager for Creative Technologies, and Head of Design. We have had fantastic support from our local design related industries for the new design school, and now we must rise to the challenge of really connecting our educational resources with our businesses to build capability for our region. But this is the kind of challenge we should be rising to, rather than that of trying to keep our doors open on Monday mornings - but more about that later.

Also significant about the design school project is the fact that it is a collaboration with the University. Our relationship with the University is excellent, and I believe our commitment to share this new facility is unique in the NZ tertiary scene. But it is also so sensible - the two institutions will each have their own space in the new building, but we will also have common space, thereby avoiding duplicative investment in expensive technology. And by working together we will harness the Polytechnic's applied teaching with the University's research expertise in the interests of our stakeholders.

But this wonderful start to the week soon turned to custard as I turned my attention to what is without doubt the worst part of my job: announcing a surplus staffing review for our School of Art. What made this particularly difficult is the fact that it is almost a year to the week that I initiated the last review of this School, which saw the loss of four staff. Worse, in the light of that review the Art staff have done a fantastic job in redeveloping their whole undergraduate curriculum, including a new diploma programme, and the new wing for the School is progressing ahead of schedule. It is heartbreaking to cut across once again the growing optimism in the School. And again, today, I have initiated a staffing review for Student Services, an area we have been steadily building as we strive to provide our students with better support services and a more satisfying and successful experience. But we cannot afford to maintain the service levels we desire.

So why are these reviews happening? Simply because we are struggling to place the Polytechnic on a sustainable financial footing. We run a very lean operation, as I am sure all staff will agree, but we simply do not have the resources to maintain the current levels of activity and the current educational infrastructure. And this is because we are inadequately funded, as are most poytechnics in the sector. Unfortunately, this is an inconvenient truth for both our owners ( government) and TEC who are charged with managing the sector on behalf of our owners. Actually, we are our owners - we the public of New Zealand, and in Otago we the citizens of this region. Why is it that we do not stand up and insist that our key community assets be adequately funded and maintained?

And something else worthy of reflecting on: apparently the country can afford to introduce a universal student allowance at an eventual cost of $200m pa, but cannot afford the approximately $50m pa it would take to place every polytechnic on a sustainable financial footing. I do not want to begrudge future students receiving assistance with the costs of their education, but many New Zealanders can afford to support their children. I am one of those, and I am happy to be doing so. I was not expecting my children to be educated entirely on the tax payer, but I guess I should just relax and enjoy it! But I would rather have seen some of that $200m paying for world class polytechnics in which my children could be educated. Surely $150m would go along way towards achieving the objectives of a universal student allowance, with the other $50m used to fund the systm adequately? Rather than the disgrace we have for a polytechnic system at the moment - antiquated plant and equipment, poor building stock and inadequate technology characterise the system in which we expect future generations to be educated. How sensible is that?

Enough! I feel my blood pressure rising and sense a rant coming on. So I will finish on a sweet note. Wednesday saw the launch of the "Tertiary Precinct Development Plan" - a plan to improve progressively that part of the city in which we operate: improved transport, better public facilities, improved housing and a cleaner and more sustainable environment. This plan is the result of several years of collaborative effort by the DCC, Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago, and is born from our collective determination to ensure that Dunedin continues to be New Zealand's tertiary education capital! I am looking forward to ensuring that we at Otago Polytechnic do our bit to bring the plan to life.

Tomorrow the week finishes for me on a high note: a visioning day for our School of Applied Business. I am really looking forward to this, and to what I am sure will be a veritable feast of ideas to establish our business school as a jewel in the OP crown!


Leigh Blackall said...

The Tertiary Precinct Development Plan.. first thing I thought of was an opportunity for Living Campus. No doubt you guys are onto it, but I did a search and found the project timeline (I think). Seems like December is the time to be lobbying for a Living Campus investiment - not just on Otago Polytechnic grounds either. I'm thinking a strip that connects the Polytechnics L Block, Art School, the old College (now Uni), Billy Bob, Forth St Campus and the University - all along the Leith. L Block has the resources and very public location to grow the project and spread it up the Leith park lands. It has a Permaculture Garden set up, a propagation shed, Anzac Avenue exposure, and proximity..

What do ya reckon? Might be good to do while the rest of the campus gets renovated...

phil said...

Yes, I made a point of highlighting our Living Campus project at the signing ceremony, and for sure we will try to get the DCC and the Uni to support developments along the Leith. I am not sure what is significant about December - what have you picked up on Leigh?
However, as our first Living Campus development we have committed to developing the area between A Block and D Block, which will also house the new whanau room, so a Maori heritage garden will be part of this as well.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Phil, the master planning phase for teh "Campus" part of the project starts in December - according to the May 08 Summary of Priorities (PDF)

Campus master planning process Dec 2008 Preliminary review of campus zone to be undertaken by 2009/10.

hadashi said...

Maybe the Tertiary Precinct Development Plan people would care to see if something along the lines of ancient Chinese Hula-hoop buildings would fit with their vision.

(rats, Leigh, how do you insert a hyperlink within a comment?)

Leigh Blackall said...

Nice find William! I'm a big fan of Hakka architecture! These things are famous for withstanding earth quakes and cannon balls, as well as being cool in summer and warn in winter (apparently). I've had seeing these for real on my list of things to do in life. It would be awesome to see a rebuild of these, especially in light of China's persistent "modernisation". I tried to find out if the Chinese Garden was build on Hakka design principles a while back. I suspected that it was, (but I think I am wrong). What little I know about Hakka design of the family home is that the opening faces South. This is to catch the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. I noticed that the Chinese Garden faces South, but our sun is in the North!

Links in comments need to have the HTML typed in manually. See this wikibook for help. Could HTML be a new form of punctuation perhaps?

Susan Ellis said...

The bitter October cold and the bitter truth. No one would possibly wish this upon anyone- doing another round of cost cutting (loss of hours and redundancy) within one year of the previous review.

Representing the interests of stakeholders can't be easy; given the results delivered by previous reviews and redundancies.

No harder than auditing costs of redundancy and compare this to the benefit derived from constructive measures; like using the review process to reward collective responsibility like the art school has demonstrated.

No harder than guessing the costs implicit in loss of job security and job do-ability, staff and student morale (a sense of belonging, social cohesion and well being) and enthusiastic insightful planning.