Opinion: Tony Chaston senses a growing unease at Lincoln University and its ability to survive; calls for a stronger commitment to ag education

Opinion: Tony Chaston senses a growing unease at Lincoln University and its ability to survive; calls for a stronger commitment to ag education
Lincoln University campus

By Tony Chaston

Lincoln University is awash in rumour as it undergoes a major restructure of it’s workforce in a bid to survive.

There are reports it is financially stretched.

Earthquake payments have yet to be assigned even though Canterbury University has received theirs and it was recently revealed Lincoln has lost its bid for major funding for its Centre of Research Excellence group.

Voluntary redundancies are being proposed and many long-term staff fear the next step will be forced redundancies.

Staff morale is said to be low and the discord between the academics and management is growing as the University searches for a new direction.

Many new management positions have been created in the last few years and these apparently outnumber teaching and research positions three to one.

The growing split in support for the leadership is proving to be very unhelpful in reinvigorating the direction of a once proud and productive university.

A significant issue is the retaining of courses and faculties that do not strongly follow the ‘Land’ based brand.

Those non-core courses have falling enrollments and almost all other universities adequately cover these areas.

At the same time agriculture courses are growing at Lincoln both in the diploma and degree options. Resources should follow and grow with the increasing intake. But they are not.

Agriculture is a competitive advantage for New Zealand and it seems ironic that teaching resources are being reduced at Lincoln when the Ministry of Primary Industries proposes large national rural economy targets needing increased production.

Why is it, for example, that there is no degree course in Horticulture taught in NZ? Businesses in this sector must source their expertise from overseas as they strive to double this $5-6 billion dollar business to meet the MPI targets.

NZ’s economic success in the last few years has been underpinned by a successful agricultural sector. Educational bureaucrats need to change the model to one that rewards the sectors that generates the country’s wealth by increasing tertiary funding in this area.

They talk-the-talk about growth targets for our food industries but they will not be achieved without investment in young graduates. Top quality rural courses are expensive and it is disappointing to learn that Lincoln can only deliver them at a loss – a core reason for the current stress and why the choices they face are so tough.

The country needs a regular flow of passionate agricultural graduates to expand the economy and Lincoln University as a focused ‘Land based institution’ should be the one to do it.

I write this with an unapologetic interest, being a past graduate, farmer, host of student field trips and later a tutor and part time lecturer at Lincoln University.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Can't you see that govt tries very hard to move away from being an agriculture-led-developed country, which itself is very unique, wired if you like.
Rocket science in Canterbury Uni will provide much more value-add to human capital than Lincoln's farm management course. Lincoln may have a chance if providing some sort of food science degrees, like what Massey does in her Palmy and AKL campus.
Alternatively, maybe just downgrade Lincoln from a Uni to a polytech etc.

management overhead is the last thing needed.
we were never convinced moving from agriculural college was required.
we've not seen the horse power as a heavy weight research entity (this is from the days where power was centred in the Farm Management Dept. and the rugby club).
The strength is/has been the past roll (networks), the extension, legionary farm tours, demonstration and ag policy delivery (working with other agreserch entities) - academically the diploma streams.
There may well have always been gaps. One feature often over looked is the number of graduates that then felt the need to continue grad/post grad university education at other institutions. The dregrees have never been standalone stong, in a way engineering or accountancy have. espcially after the demise of: Rural Bank & Val Dept.
pop it back under the wing of UC. and let it draw upon UCs engineering and computer & natural sciences etc..

Very sensible as always.
Most businesses are centralising management; and your soution would seem to allow for that. Resources saved in management can go into the apparently productive teaching and research arms, and not into management duplication.

This is another sign of the visionless National party. John Key in particular doesn't seem to care at all about Canterbury and is quite happy to let previously successfully institutions, services and communities to be poorly repaired, run down and gradually become 3rd rate.
It all could have been so different. A more visionary government would have supported the University while improving the surrounding area. It could have acquired a few farms next to Lincoln University the size of the redzone. Built an extension to the Southern motorway towards Lincoln. Sold the land at cost (with an allowance for the motorway expenses) to half a dozen or more developers for them to provide affordable housing. Plus do something similar for a industrial/commercial area.
Alternatively it could have created a massive business/residential area zoned rural/residential/commercial around the university -say a 10km radius, marked in some right of way areas for future trunk infrastructure connections. Make no restrictions on developers other than a fixed charge (say $10,000 per lot) to a trunk infrastructure fund. Thus there would be massive competition to provide affordable housing.
This could have been Canterbury's housing accord....
Standford University started out as a farm and for much of its history California was famous for being affordable, especially in the years when the hi tech sector was getting started. We might not produce the agricultural equivalent of an Apple or a Microsoft but if we don't plant the seed and provide good growing conditions we will never know....

California has a bit more benign weather than Canterbury, maybe?

I think the weather justification for areas of good growth has been thoroughly debunked. But the Tai Tapu to Lincoln area has one of the best micro climate's in Canterbury because it has protection from the cold easterly wind.

So does North Amberley, you dog you.

... and Parnassus ... Domett .... Tormore .... superb mesoclimates , and no early morning traffic congestion ...

For those, like Brendon, reflecting on how things have gone in Canterbury the past few years, this story about Sweden may give food for thought

Thanks DH. Maybe too much 'vision' is bad too....

Key and the Nats work along the same plans as high end old stool bankers.

There is no need to care for existing holders, or to assist your existing customers - you have their money and contracts.  It's dragging other new faces in that's all important.

If a business goes under, so what.  If a family is homeless so what...someone else will purchase their property at market rate and move forwards with it.  The new people will borrow more money and thus bankers and business will prosper, right?

Lincoln's demise would be sad on many levels not least having spent a short time there and one of my kids a bit longer. But having seen four children complete degrees along with their partners I'm still not sure what is needed. Often as not they have ended up working in completely different fields than their degree though that would in no way make their degrees a waste of time.
Perhaps the only real thing I can offer is that of a total of ten, kids and partners, all have or recently had some involvement in Farming. Ranging from sharemilk ing to doing farmers accounts. All are well paid and will make short work of their student loans. Surely Lincoln must survive.

This Govt is withdrawing funding from most Unis & ITPs. Last year they started tendering out various courses & some young Clerks at TEC farmed the funding to small PTEs = this is designed to destabilize Unis & ITPs and keep them on tenterhooks.
Next step is to setup charter tertiary institutes?
Also on the agenda at TEC is to merge as many unis ITPs as possible hence the need to bankrupt smaller institutes. Now to join in the dismantling, NZQA are reviewing all quals - maybe to turn all NZ degrees into Unit Standards.


Exisitng stucture:
Large wealthy insititutions, partly funded by government, much tax free activities, significant public interest.

Future structure, based on "the marketing of education as a commercial activity"
Smaller institutions with less influence, charged fees&licenses&program right&material subscription&monitored by government (with right to threaten to pull courses if institutions dare argue - bang goes your business/investment),  taxes on all profits,  no public interest in many small private operations.  Students paying significantly more for courses via loans, more students endebted for more unless parents in top paying connections , institutions have right to commission on fees, failure of a course can be isolated to a private instutution not ministry/ERO type orgainsations.

They (government) just sold off the much of the profit-part of the power infrastructure to private interests.
They finally managed to back the farmers into selling off their supplier own distrubtion/processing/marketing chain to private interests (only to 50 yrs but they got there).

And you don't think that sell up to the same private interests isn't going on here (education market)?

How do you sell a University or polytechnic?

... offer it to Uncle Ollie or Bad Diggy as a residential redevelopment site ....
It'll be full to the gunnels with tenants in pre-fabs , lecture rooms , and Warehouse discount tents in no time flat ....
... you gotta love your landlord ... as you spend a winter in a discount tent meant for two ...