Funding cuts force online trainer to charge

Slashed funding brings an end to free courses

Changes in education funding are forcing online providers to rethink their couse delivery and charge for courses that were once delivered free to students.

Over the past two years, online training provider BrainFuel has signed up around 1,400 students, mainly through the free programme operated by the Southland Institute of Technology (SIT).

However, operational funding for SIT was slashed late last year by the Tertiary Education Commission, bringing to an end its ability to offer free courses.

Southland mayor Tim Shadbolt took on the government over the cuts, and both parties recently announced that SIT would receive back more than $6 million in funding.

That, however, does not resolve the issue. Computerworld understands the funding relates to an application SIT made 18 months ago for capital to erect new buildings and is not a restoration of TEC’s cuts.

BrainFuel director Chris O’Shea approached SIT to deliver the National Certificate in Computing Level 2, after he and the late Liz Dengate-Thrush set up BrainFuel three years ago as a digital delivery platform.

It was tailored for those who had only dial-up access. BrainFuel did the marketing and enrolment; the polytechnic handled tutoring through to completion of the online course.

“It was a good thing for SIT,” O’Shea says. “As well as offering computer education, it became a bottom feeder for them for other courses. It gave them up to 100 enrolments a month.”

It was a 44-credit course, which attracted EFTS (equivalent fulltime student) funding of $1800 per student for SIT.

Last year, a second course was introduced: Business Administration in Computing Level 2. Both courses are NCQA approved.

The TEC capped funding at 200 EFTS. Then, last December, the funding was cut and no EFTS were allowed.

O’Shea says it seems the TEC wanted the polytech to confine its activities to the Southland region — it was branching out into Canterbury.

“Even online learning was to be within Southland.”

The result is that BrainFuel now has to charge for its courses — $695 for business administration, and $99 a module (word processing, Excel, presentation and the like) for the national certificate.

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