6 Dec 2017

Pacific students bewildered, out of pocket

4:48 pm on 6 December 2017

Students, staff and contractors have been left bewildered, shocked and out of pocket with the sudden closure of a Pacific college in Auckland - with many now struggling to find work and pay the bills just before Christmas.

PIPA, Pacific Institute of Performing Arts

PIPA, Pacific Institute of Performing Arts Photo: RNZ Pacific Sara Vui-Talitu

The BEST Pacific Institute of Education had several campuses in Auckland and had been one of the main tertiary providers for Pacific people, educating more than 20,000 mostly Pacific students over three decades.

PIPA's Amanaki Prescott Faletau and Timaleti Maka

PIPA students Amanaki and Timaleti Photo: RNZ Pacific Sara Vui-Talitu

But the company went into liquidation last week and the list of creditors is growing, with some angry that no prior warning was given.

Artist Linda Lepou had been asked to provide costumes for an end of year graduation, but said she probably would not get paid now.

"Where is the accountability? Where is the board? Where is the oversight? Where is the governance? Where is all that kind of stuff to protect students who are getting loans to do these courses."

Another contractor, Sima Urale, is among those calling for an investigation and is "gutted" with how the situation has been handled.

"People have families to feed and mortgages to pay.

"How did it get to this?

"The community really deserves answers. This is a company that has had millions of funds over thirty years and this is tax payer funds. Where was their backup plan?"

Until now the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) had been funding BEST under two annual funding streams - one for student achievement component and the other was youth guarantee.

PIPA, Pacific Institute of Performing Arts

PIPA premises Photo: RNZ Pacific Sara Vui-Talitu

In 2014, BEST received just over $15 million in TEC funding to service 2154 equivalent full time students but this year numbers had dwindled to over $8 million for 1148 students.

BEST had a high proportion of fixed costs which meant it needed over $11million of TEC funding each year to break even so TEC spokesperson, Dean Winter, said they first indicated to BEST back in July that it would not receive funding for 2018.

"They then provided us then with a business plan and an investment plan which we considered and they made a submission to the TEC board before the board made its final decision and then were advised in November of the decision not to fund BEST."

One course doing well under BEST was the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA) whose students featured in many theatre productions.

PIPA spokesperson Olivia Taouma said she could not believe that they had to learn about the closure through the media.

"Well the information that came through the news item was that we were closing and it was the end of BEST, which means the end of our staff and our students and the ripple effect of that has been hugely traumatising especially for our students and our staff, just before Christmas.

"Some people have mortgages and Pacific people have big families."

Amanaki Prescott Faletau has been with PIPA for eight years, both as a student and tutor and said she loved the school because of its Pacific way of teaching and learning, and its ability to produce Pacific stories for the stage.

She said most Pacific people in production or on TV now had all been through the school.

Students still went ahead with their end of year show but had to foot the bill themselves, she said.

"The students cooked for our families and friends the other night. We are still paying off the venue because Best Training has gone into liquidation. Our tutors and just PIPA alone pushed for the show to continue and did it with their own money and their own time. No one was getting paid."

Timaleti Maka loves the course, but is only midway through and she now has to go elsewhere to finish her studies.

PIPA's Olivia Taouma and Jonathan Soo Choon

PIPA staff member Olivia Taouma Photo: RNZ Pacific Sara Vui-Talitu

"It is just heartbreaking that what we call our second home is going to be gone."

PIPA students collected prizes at this week's Auckland Theatre Awards.

The TEC is now tasked with finding an alternative education provider for BEST Pacific's 1200 affected students and PIPA students have already been told to complete their studies at Manukau Institute of Technology.

Ms Taouma said there was no consultation or consideration of their needs.

"We were disgusted at the way the response was.

"It was basically there is one option and you can go anywhere but because most everywhere is closed ... students felt like they are being ghettoized and into this kind of stereotype like 'you know you are a whole lot of brown students, go to MIT in South Auckland'."

With all BEST Pacific courses suspended, liquidators McGrathNicol said it was now working closely with directors, the Commission and New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to ensure the smooth transition of all students into other institutions.