NEW ZEALAND: University to merge with polytechnic

New Zealand's smallest university is to merge with one of its smallest polytechnics next year. The government has approved the union of Lincoln University and Telford Rural Polytechnic - both specialists in the rural sector and both located in the country's South Island.

Lincoln has about 2,700 full-time students, including some 700 international students, while Telford has nearly 1,000 domestic students.

The merger means Telford will become a division of Lincoln and both its name and its campus in Balclutha will be retained.

The university will also continue to offer the sub-degree education that Telford provided, with the aim of providing programmes that run from basic certificates through to postgraduate research related to rural industries.

That aspect of the merger signals a break from previous government policy, which sought to reduce the number of sub-degree enrolments at the country's eight universities, and saw other universities progressively reducing their enrolments in sub-degree programmes.

There is also concern among the remaining 19 polytechnics that the merger represents a transfer of government funding from their sector to the university sector at a time when the government is strictly limiting the number of student places it will subsidise.

Already, Lincoln's Vice-chancellor, Professor Roger Field, has acknowledged the university will use 80 of Telford's 950 government-funded places for enrolments at degree level or above. And he will not say what might happen to those places beyond next year.

But Field says the merger is not aimed at improving Lincoln's finances - the university expects to record its third consecutive deficit this year and is planning cutbacks in order to balance its books.

The Minister of Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, said ideally the merger should have been delayed until Lincoln had returned to surplus. But he said the benefits of the merger were too good to delay.

The minister said he expected the merger would improve the speed, reach and effectiveness of knowledge transfer from research to on-farm practice.

Lincoln's chancellor Tom Lambie said the merger was in line with two governmental intentions - to drive productivity growth and investment in the export sector and to give young people wider choices in education.

"The merger offers many new possibilities in training for land-based industries. It will result in vertical integration to encompass all aspects of the agricultural and land-based sector provision and supply chain, from secondary school, sub-degree and undergraduate teaching to postgraduate research, commercialisation and extension activities with industry."

Joyce said: "The land-based sector is very important for New Zealand and becoming more so. Having a specialist research and teaching institution, combining the best of Lincoln and Telford, will provide a stronger knowledge base as we look to build our export-led recovery."

The president of the Lincoln University Students' Association, Ivy Harper, said the staircasing opportunities provided by the merger had obvious benefits for students.

The merger takes effect on 1 January 2011.

There has been one other merger of a polytechnic and university in New Zealand - when Wellington Polytechnic became part of Massey University in 1999.