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Taratahi agri training operator in interim liquidation

Taratahi agri training operator in interim liquidation

By Paul McBeth

Dec. 20 (BusinessDesk) - The Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre has been placed into interim liquidation at the request of its board of trustees as declining student numbers saw its funding drop faster than it could cut costs.

The High Court yesterday appointed David Ruscoe and Russell Moore of Grant Thornton as interim liquidators after the board sought to protect the position of its staff, students, creditors and other stakeholders, the accounting firm said.

Taratahi is a private training establishment, employing 250 staff, and educating 2,850 students this year. It owns and manages eight farms across the country.

"Our main concerns are for our students, staff, animal welfare and our creditors and partners," chair Mavis Mullins said.

The centre has been rolling out a change programme since 2016 and had hoped to reposition itself as the national provider of primary industries training by 2021. Next year would be its 100th year of operation.

Taratahi's cost of educating each student exceeds the funding based on its operating model, despite government subsidies and cash flow from its farming operations, Grant Thornton said.

It reported a $7.3 million surplus in calendar 2017 on revenue of $22.8 million. Of that, $13.6 million came from the Tertiary Education Commission. It also received a $2 million contribution from Lincoln University last year when it took on the Telford on-farm learning campus near Balclutha.

Ruscoe said he and Moore are working with the board, management, the TEC, NZQA, Ministry for Primary Industries and other agencies to support staff and students.

"We understand that wages and salaries are up to date and funds are being received from livestock sales and Fonterra payments to keep the organisation running as per normal over the Christmas break," he said.

In 2014, Taratahi recognised an $8.7 million liability from over-funding of programmes between 2009 and 2014 following a TEC review. It was repaying that at a monthly rate of $40,000. In March this year, its banker Westpac was reviewing its facility with the education provider.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said Taratahi has repaid $3.5 million of that mostly by selling assets, which wasn't a sustainable model.

"What’s clear is that the current model of vocational training for primary industry is broken," he said.

Last year, an NZQA review of Taratahi was confident in the PTE's capability in its self-assessment, but was not yet confident in its education performance. It recommended stronger monitoring and analysis of educational achievement, particularly of Māori, Pasifika and women. It also wanted Taratahi to idenfity the extent to which it is meeting the needs of key graduate groups, and needed better industry feedback.

NZQA also recommended the educator develop a consistent approach to assessing the impact of the changes made in key areas such as education delivery, professional development and student wellbeing.

(BusinessDesk)

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