Positive talks were held on Monday (11 September 2017) about the possible impact of free tertiary education on Southern Institute of Technology and the city by civic leaders and Labour Party former leader Andrew Little and local candidate Liz Craig.
Mayor Tim Shadbolt, Deputy Mayor Rebecca Amundsen and Southern Institute of Technology Chief Executive Penny Simmonds met Mr Little and Dr Craig following the publication of Mayor Shadbolt’s column in The Southland Times on September 2. In the column, addressed as an open letter to Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern, Mayor Shadbolt expressed concern that Labour’s policy announcement of one year’s free tertiary education from January 2018, and up to three years by 2024, would mean SIT and Invercargill would lose their “marketing edge”.
The Mayor said Monday’s discussions were incredibly positive. “They were wanting as much information as they could get, particularly about any potential fishhooks when implementing such a scheme, and we wanted to know what their position would be if we were to introduce free accommodation for SIT students,” he said.
“Both sides benefitted from the discussions. t’s amazing in the dynamics of an election – all sorts of things get thrown out there and then put through the test of debate. This wasn’t a debate, but a discussion, with constructive information shared by all parties.”
He said there was still a lot of work to be done on the possibility of free accommodation for SIT students, including assessing what the demand would be.
Ms Simmonds said Mr Little and Dr Craig had not seen any potential conflict between Labour’s education policy and SIT’s plans to potentially offer free accommodation. “We were pleased that they were prepared to come, to engage with us, and to hear the concerns we have. There is still a lot of detail to be worked through, and of course the devil is in the detail.”
Some of those details included how Labour planned to monitor whether students were eligible for free tertiary fees, and how Labour would ensure that what was being paid for was fair, because not all courses were equal. “We now understand the policy a little better, but there are still some concerns to be allayed. The policy may be detrimental to a lot of regions if students were to be drawn to larger cities,” Ms Simmonds said.