Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Review of Waikato Pathways College could unsettle up to 50 jobs

Waikato University senior deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones told staff at a meeting yesterday that negotiations to subcontract with another party are being proposed again for the success of the college.  Photo / File
Waikato University senior deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones told staff at a meeting yesterday that negotiations to subcontract with another party are being proposed again for the success of the college. Photo / File

The jobs of 30 staff at the Waikato Pathways College are uncertain after the University of Waikato announced a proposal to contract out functions of the college.

The college, based at the university campus in Hamilton, offers university preparation courses, and foundation and English language programmes, and recruits international students.

It's the second time in as many years the university has proposed a private provider take over the running of the college after the first effort failed in July 2016.

Then the university was at end stage negotiations with an overseas provider when the subcontractor withdrew because of market uncertainty following the Brexit vote.

Waikato University made structure and staffing changes to the college to achieve financial viability but at a meeting with staff yesterday, Waikato University senior deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones said negotiations to subcontract with another party were being proposed again for the success of the college.

"The pre-degree market is extremely competitive, especially for programmes that pathway to university," Jones wrote in a letter to staff on February 7.

"More students are looking at alternative options with many choosing to stay in their own country to study English or study in a country which is less expensive before moving to New Zealand for tertiary study."

Jones said the university's current reach and resources did not enable it to develop the global profile to compete in the pre-degree international student recruitment market.

He told the Herald the proposal to contract out the college functions to a globally recognised private provider were being done under the governance of a joint management committee.

He said curriculum would continue to be developed and accredited by the university and students would remain enrolled with it, if the contract went ahead.

"We are very conscious that Pathways staff have already experienced significant change in recent times.

"With this in mind, the proposal is only being made after careful thought, and with a view to ensuring the college's long-term sustainability through improved marketing, global reach, strengthened student enrolments and diversity."

It's understood the other party would be responsible for strategic planning, marketing, international student recruitment, the delivery/teaching of programmes and associated management, support and administration and would be the employer of any staff undertaking those functions.

The university wanted to see a strong commitment from any partner to offer employment to as many current college staff as possible "on no less favourable terms and conditions", he said in the letter.

The major benefits were listed as:

• significantly increased marketing and brand exposure;

• increased access to an extensive network of agents;

• increased access to potential students from around the world;

• diversification of the university's international population by reaching students in countries where it currently does not have a profile;

• enhanced viability and growth of the college.

But Tertiary Education Union organiser Steve Vugler said the union was concerned staff would lose jobs, redundancy entitlements, and retirement gratuities such as sick and holiday pay.

There was also alarm at the possibility of a pre-determined outcome.

"If they went through that exercise 18 months ago, and now they're going through it again, then it clearly reinforces the argument they've got a predetermined outcome.

"That they're looking to deliver here, to contract out the services to another provider. He [the provider] may take on some of the staff but they would be on significantly different terms of employment."

Vugler said he was also worried about staff having to go through the "hell" of another review so soon because of the uncertainty of their futures.

"They have no job security, they don't know where they're going and they don't know what the outcome's going to be for them."

Vugler said keeping control of the curriculum did not necessarily mean the university could ensure quality would be maintained.

"If the provider is wanting to make money on the exercise they are likely to reduce staffing levels and increase student to teacher ratios and that automatically compromises quality."

There was widespread opposition from staff, students and the public to the first proposal in April 2016.

Consultation on the proposal closes on February 28.

- NZ Herald

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