The cost-cutting at UCOL is not as bad as you may think. On its website, UCOL argues it will keep more than 90 per cent of its 2012 funding and most programmes will be available in 2013. Current students will not be affected and everyone will be able to complete the programme they enrolled in in 2012.
Perhaps a clean-out of courses is an appropriate regular measure to take. The problem is, what if this happens next year, or every two years?
There is a nagging suspicion that Whanganui UCOL is being wound down or at least ground down.
UCOL chief Paul McElroy said while staff cuts had been made and the hairdressing course had gone, the tertiary institution was in Wanganui "for the long haul". It's an interesting choice of words when fronting to spin a parcel of bad news and is only just reassuring.
But does anyone believe the the loss of the fine arts and glass courses intake for 2013 is just a "pause", as Mr McElroy said?
And the blow to UCOL takes in both the top and bottom tiers of the job market. The loss of principal Julia Pedley and her two deputies means Whanganui UCOL will now be run from Palmerston North even more directly. It may be a sound financial move, but it's another case of Wanganui losing autonomy, and management of its institutions coming from elsewhere. The foundation programme for hairdressing is also a loss, given the need for bridges between school and career training. The course was cut because students weren't completing the programme and the Government only pays for those who get past the finishing line. Fair enough, but why so many failures? Couldn't the problem have been sorted out earlier?
The changes at UCOL also bring into question how important the arts sector is to Wanganui. As a newcomer, it seems a key element to making the city more vibrant than other provincial centres. The arts should not be last on a list of priorities for any government or civic budget, and some places have made a virtue of their creativity, Wellington, for example, which has industries based on an inventive community. If they haven't already done so it's time for Wanganui leadership to be knocking down the door of the Ministry of Education and finding out what the plan is for Wanganui tertiary education. If the change at UCOL is good for young people - either keeping them here or giving them a start in life - that's great. But if it's not, then we need to make a really big stink about it.