Penny Simmonds: ‘Worst fears have come true’ thanks to SIT sponsorship cuts

Former Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds is unhappy that SIT broke long-term sponsorship deals she helped set up.

Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Former Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds is unhappy that SIT broke long-term sponsorship deals she helped set up.

Former Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds has verbally criticized the organization for ending its long-term sponsorship deals with Southland’s three professional sports teams.

SIT has opted not to renew sponsorship partnerships with the Southland Stags, Southern Steel and the Southland Sharks.

A statement from SIT’s international department and marketing director, Chami Abeysinghe, said on Friday that SIT had been hit by a significant reduction in revenue following the loss of international students, and that it needed to cut costs for those who study at SIT.

“When setting budgets last year, we had to carefully consider and balance the impacts of reduced revenue and increased costs of delivering educational programs without passing those increases on to our learners.”

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Although Simmonds pointed to SIT’s $2.2 million surplus for the 2021 fiscal year ending Dec. 31, believing they should have always supported the Southland community through sponsorship deals like this -this.

Simmonds was the chief executive of SIT when the government consulted on the centralized polytechnic merger, and she raised concerns about what it would mean for SIT’s local autonomy.

The current Invercargill MP issued a press release on Sunday saying her “worst fears had come true” thanks to SIT’s decision to end its long-term sponsorship deals with the Stags, Sharks and ‘Steel.

Simmonds was involved in establishing these sponsorship agreements and believed that the relationships benefited the institute and its students, through opportunities and marketing, as well as support from the Southland community.

SIT has been appointing the rights sponsor since 2003 until this season. The SBS has now taken over.

SIT had also been the Sharks’ ex-officio sponsor since 2010, when it first entered the New Zealand National Basketball League, and was a ‘major’ sponsor of netball team Southern Steel since its creation in 2008.

“To me, this is a step backwards and another example of SIT’s withdrawal from the Southland community, and the collaborative relationship that once existed, as it prepares to be engulfed in the juggernaut of the mega-merger of government,” the National Party MP said.

As of February 14, the number of full-time equivalent SIT students across the organization had decreased by more than 400 compared to the corresponding period in 2021 – from 2,856 to 2,450.

Reasons for the falling numbers included the lack of international students due to border closures, the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and low unemployment figures which invariably prevented people from enrolling, said Managing Director Onno Mulder.

Mulder also noted that the number of registrations in 2021 was the highest SIT has seen in about a decade.

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