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28/11/2014

SIT cuts teacher hours

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Southern Institute of Technology is being accused of shortchanging Queenstown students by cutting teaching hours at its Frankton campus. 

Teaching hours for all its full-time Queenstown courses have been cut back, allegedly due to low student numbers. 

Cutbacks this year range from about 20 per cent of the teaching hours for information technology, beauty therapy and hotel and tourism management diplomas – and 30 per cent for its personal training certificate. 

Tutors have also had their hours reduced and pay cut. 

SIT boss Penny Simmonds doesn’t believe Queenstown students are missing out – but a local tutor claims resort students are being shortchanged. 

That’s because teaching hours for those same courses haven’t been cut at other major educational institutions in New Zealand – including SIT’s Invercargill and Christchurch campuses. 

The tutor: “Is it ethical for a tertiary provider to offer qualifications at a staggeringly different level of tuition from other locations but still award students the same certificates and diplomas?” 

Tertiary Education Union regional organiser Kris Smith says she’s concerned about staff being required to deliver the same programme in a shorter number of hours than other institutions. 

“I think it puts a lot of stress on staff. Certainly, the same pro-gramme being delivered in different locations to different models is surprising.” 

To compensate for fewer teaching hours, students have to complete a higher proportion of their courses in their own time – or self-directed learning. 

Local SIT beauty therapy students, for example, now have to self-learn their anatomy and physiology paper. 

Smith asks if the NZ Qualifications Authority – which she says approves all courses on the basis, among other things, of a set number of teaching hours – is aware of the Queenstown situation. 

However, SIT boss Simmonds doesn’t believe Queenstown students are being shortchanged by the teaching-hour cuts. 

They could even benefit from more interactive learning in smaller classes, she says. 

“We have, right across the institute, a policy where if student numbers are quite low, we’ll cancel the course or we will pull the [teaching] hours back to make it still viable to continue.” 

SIT’s Government funding is based on student numbers, Simmonds says. 

“If there are eight students in a course this year and there were 16 last year, we’re getting half the income. Do we not run at all or do we run it on reduced hours and allow people to use technology and other means?” 

Simmonds doesn’t accept it’s inequitable that Queenstown students are getting fewer teaching hours than those at other campuses. 

“What wouldn’t be equitable is if, say, you had eight students in one class in Queenstown and it was being taught on less hours than the same class with eight in Invercargill. 

“What you’ll find is there might be eight in Queenstown and 34 in Invercargill – and if you attached hours per student they’re probably getting more hours than the class with 34.” 

Simmonds says she feels sympathy for tutors receiving less income but notes they’re mostly employed on a casual basis. 

Simmonds is adamant course documents don’t state a set number of teaching hours but it’s understood SIT curriculum documents include columns headed ‘targeted hours’ with certain teaching hours guaranteed. 

An NZQA spokesperson says the way courses are delivered is up to individual institutions. 

“NZQA’s role is the quality assurance of the qualification,” the spokesperson says. 

“NZQA has contacted SIT to discuss the questions raised and we’re satisfied with the delivery of courses at the Queenstown campus.”

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