The longest-serving chair in New Zealand’s polytechnic sector, David Pearson is handing over the baton after a 20-year association with EIT.
Pearson – who is succeeded by Geraldine Travers, a ministerial appointee and an EIT council member since 2008 – says the institution’s evolution over the last 43 years marks it out as a dynamic and resourceful organisation. It continues to grow organically, he says, to meet the unique needs of the communities it serves.
“EIT is clearly the jewel in the crown for the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti regions. It ranks among New Zealand’s top-performing ITPs [institutes of technology and polytechnics] across a range of measures.”
Pearson points to NZQA’s ranking of EIT as category one, meaning the authority is “highly confident” in its educational performance and ability to self-assess. Only a handful of New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics have achieved this rating.
The managing partner in BDO Central and based in the chartered accountants and business advisory company’s Napier office, Pearson began his EIT service in 1998. Continuing in that role for 10 years, he became a Council member in 2003 and took on the role of chair in 2005.
He feels a strong connection to Hawke’s Bay – his parents met after arriving separately in the region in the late 1940s – and he was concerned that young people were leaving for tertiary education and because of a perceived lack of local employment opportunities.
He also recognised the need to provide for second-chance learners wanting to pursue tertiary study.
These, he says, were the primary drivers in his stepping up to serve EIT.
The number of students, the suite of programme offerings and student completion rates have all increased during his tenure.
EIT recorded 3274 equivalent full-time students in 2010 and by 2017 that had increased to 4518.
Last year, 138 programmes were offered across the institute’s Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti and Auckland campuses, ranging from entry-level certificates through to 12 bachelor degrees, five master degrees and 13 postgraduate programmes.
While the financial difficulties experienced by several polytechnics recently attracted headlines, he points out that EIT has never posted a deficit – “a credit to the prudence and conservatism of current and previous governors, management and executive staff.”
Pearson says highlights of his tenure include:
> The 2010 merger of EIT Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti Polytechnic. “We were Tairāwhiti Polytechnic’s institution of choice, and it was an outstanding opportunity for us in developing critical mass to perform at a higher level in the sector. The merger has been hailed as a success by Government, educational authorities and the Tairāwhiti community.”
> EIT’s Year 13 degree scholarships, which are retaining more young people in the region. Last year, 42 percent of the institute’s 10,222 students were aged under 25.
> Bucking a nationwide trend, EIT grew its international student numbers last year. The 1006 internationals came from 50 countries, and they represented a 26 percent increase on the previous year.
> Restructured as a charitable trust following EIT’s purchase of the on-campus Ōtātara Children’s Centre and Ōtātara bookshop, the Ōtātara Trust has since doubled its funds, better enabling it to make scholarship grants to deserving students. In adding to the pool of funds available for that purpose, Pearson says last year’s Pharazyn Estate bequest was “spectacular”.
> Applied research projects which are generating additional funding, boosting EIT’s reputation as a researcher and attracting high-calibre academics.
> The 2013 launch of trades academies on the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti campuses. Now ranked among New Zealand’s largest, these are well-supported by the regions’ high schools and offer practical skills training for senior students while allowing them to study for industry-based NCEA credits or industry-based qualifications.
> An increasingly applied approach to learning, such as that adopted in 2013 for the project-based visual arts and design degree, now renamed the Bachelor of Creative Practice. Entry-level cooking and construction programmes have been offered on marae and final-year Bachelor of Computing Systems and Bachelor of Business Studies students are required to undertake internships or complete applied projects.
> Opened in 2010, the Trades and Technology Building provides an open-plan layout which allows for a more integrated project approach to teaching different trades. Another relatively new landmark for the Hawke’s Bay campus, Te Ūranga Waka’s administration, lecturer and research building represented a first step in what is planned to be a phased redevelopment of the school for Māori studies.
> The recently-opened new regional learning centre in Hastings underscores EIT’s commitment to servicing the needs of all its communities. Its reach extends beyond the three main campuses to towns and rural settlements throughout the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti regions. Nearly 1800 EIT students study off-site.
> Last year, 49 percent of EIT’s SAC-funded (Student Achievement Component) equivalent full-time students self-identified as Māori. Māori comprised 43 percent of EIT Hawke’s Bay’s student body and 72 percent of students at EIT Tairāwhiti.
EIT chief executive Chris Collins said not only was Pearson probably the longest –serving chair within the tertiary education sector, his tenure would also have to be regarded as one of the most successful.
“EIT has gone from strength to strength under his watch.”
Pearson says he is going to miss many aspects associated with his role as chair.
That includes celebrating the achievement of people who have served the institute well, including Bruce Martin, a long-standing chief executive of EIT “who continues to take an interest”; and the late Tim Twist, a Council chair for 17 years.
“Bruce and Tim were very supportive in my transition to Council chair.
“The excellent relationships I have enjoyed with chief executive Chris Collins, my fellow councillors and EIT’s outstanding management team have been based on trust and a strong mutual interest in developing the institution.”
Pearson is also grateful to his partners and staff at BDO who, he says, created the opportunity for him to give his time to EIT.
Among the things he will miss most will be presenting qualification certificates at graduation.
“Steeped in pomp and ceremony, it’s a showcase for Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti success. Some 30,000 qualifications have been conferred during my term,” he adds with quiet pride.
“I recall a Māori woman from Flaxmere crossing the stage – she started with an entry-level computing programme at an EIT learning centre and there she was graduating with her Bachelor of Computing Systems.
“It’s gold,” he says of such achievers. “It makes all the political stuff pale into insignificance, and at the end of the day that’s why we are here. It has been a privilege to have been part of that.”