The decision last month for AgResearch and Lincoln University to not formally combine forces and build joint facilities must be seen as yet another nail in Lincoln’s coffin and further the undermining of the role of education in the agricultural sector.
Since the 2011 earthquake Lincoln has been beset by mismanagement, lack of strong and transparent leadership compounded by successive governments that don’t seem to know what to do with New Zealand’s smallest university.
While University of Canterbury which also had severe earthquake damage seemed to be able to grasp the situation and make rapid decisions which have resulted in a largely rebuilt campus. Lincoln is shrinking its way to oblivion.
Dangerous buildings which were unusable before the 2011 earthquake are still propped up, holes in the ground exist where old buildings stood covered in weeds. Dozens of oak trees, which must have been getting close to heritage status and added to the campus ambience, were cut down and sold for fire wood for now what is seen as yet another flawed decision and staff have been fed a diet of contradictory stories which change as often as the wind.
New plans are no doubt being drawn up as a result of the AgResearch withdrawal but given the lack of progress shown in the last eight years, in fact the reverse has occurred and the University in every sense apart from the balance sheet apparently, has gone backwards. Can we expect another eight years to pass and still no progress? Staff morale has been low for several years with large numbers of staff leaving. Lincoln is now on to its sixth Vice Chancellor since Roger Field left in 2012 acting or otherwise and with the ‘merger’ or not merger with Canterbury still being worked through the current may well be the last.
The unfortunate aspect to all of this is that Lincoln has such a lot to offer the agricultural sector but under investment from past and current government funding system which has always put Lincoln in a difficult financial situation and the gross mismanagement by some of the recent VC appointments means that it has been on the back foot for some time, even pre-earthquake. The importance of a dedicated tertiary institution to agriculture must be seen as a priority to government especially with the rapidly changing landscape that farming and land use are now being asked, no told, to operate in.
Fortunately, students are still coming but unless Lincoln can get some meaningful runs on the board soon it may never recapture the status that it once had and is arguably still trading on.
The China market
Understandably China is to the forefront of most exporters (including producers) minds when planning ahead. With this in mind I have seen some interesting fact and figures coming out of new Zealand’s largest trading ‘partner’.
The population aged 60 and above in China has for the first time surpassed those under 15, showing how the country's demographic structure is aging. According to the statement released by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) two weeks ago the population of China was about 1.4 billion at the end of 2018.
Among them, the number of people aged 15 and under is 248.6 million; those who aged 60 and above are 249.5 million. This may mean companies like Fonterra need to think beyond the infant formula trade which has and is serving New Zealand producers well and look at what is suitable for an aging population.
However, much of the funding of consumer demand is coming from borrowed money and according to a survey conducted by research specialist Analysys in December 2017, people between the ages of 24 and 35 accounted for more than 70% of consumer borrowers in China. Chinese consumers, especially people born in 1980 and later, are less squeamish than their older peers about buying on debt. So, while the population is aging, they may be less keen on spending than the younger generation. A throw back to the austere times they were brought up in.