A merger of cash-strapped Canterbury’s three main tertiary providers has not been ruled out by the Government. Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has asked the University of Canterbury, Lincoln University and the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) to seek areas where they could cut costs.
“Obviously there has been some issues post-earthquake so at the moment it’s just about looking at options,” said a spokesman for Joyce. Speaking on Radio New Zealand, Joyce said all options were on the table, including possible mergers. However, he was “not looking at mergers for mergers’ sake”, he said.
CPIT would be vital in providing trade skills needed for rebuilding the city, but there could be room for the two universities to work closer together. “I have asked them [the providers] to consider what the future tertiary education network in Canterbury could look like,” Joyce said. “I have asked for all options and opportunities to be canvassed.
“The overriding goal remains to see the best possible tertiary provision for students.” Tertiary Education Union organiser Gabrielle Moore said the three institutes had made business cases to the Government after last February’s earthquake. “All we really know is that the minister is asking all three institutes to look at how they could consolidate in whatever areas … we don’t know what areas that will be,” she said.
“It will be about cutting costs and sharing resources and that sort of thing. “It’s my understanding that the process of doing that is due to start and maybe even has started.” The union supported the University of Canterbury’s proposals to the Government and had a “very good relationship with the vice-chancellor”, Moore said.
It was too early for the union to be worried about the prospect of a possible merger. “I think it’s about cutting back to make savings … and we have always been really engaged in any sort of restructuring, especially if it leads to job losses.”
In November The Press filed Official Information Act requests to Canterbury and Lincoln universities, asking about possible mergers. The University of Canterbury said it was not planning a merger with Lincoln and there had been no correspondence between the two universities about a merger. The response from Lincoln was the same.
On Tuesday, Vice-Chancellor Rod Carr said the university would “continue to work closely and collaboratively with Lincoln and CPIT”. “We note the minister’s statement that he is not looking for mergers for mergers’ sake and we support that approach,” he said.
“The post-earthquake environment has given new impetus to discussions about efficient use of facilities, effective use of capabilities and clear pathways into tertiary education and between tertiary providers,” Carr said. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology chief executive Kay Giles said she and council chairwoman Jenn Bestwick would be “identifying and analysing opportunities for collaboration in the region”.
The three institutes are part of the Canterbury Tertiary Alliance which aims to see the providers work together in a complementary way. Lincoln University Vice-Chancellor Roger Field said the providers had shared some “common challenges” since the quakes. No work had been done on a possible merger between Canterbury and Lincoln, he said.