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An increase in funding is urgently needed if New Zealand Universities are to maintain their international standing and contribute to a knowledge society, according to Victoria University's Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor David Mackay.

Reporting from an international study tour of key US universities, Professor Mackay expressed dismay at the comparative funding disadvantage faced by New Zealand universities. "Private universities, such as Stanford, have per-student funding rates up to 35 times greater than those in New Zealand," said Professor Mackay.

"But even less wealthy universities had significantly more favourable per-student funding rates. For example, the state-funded University of California, Berkeley, which does not have a medical school to pump its budget up, is funded at 8.5 times more per student than we are."

Professor Mackay also noted that California State University, Stanislaus, about half the size of Victoria University, received US$81 million from state funding and student fees. In comparison, Victoria University received NZ$135 million from all sources in 2000, with twice the number of students.

"Closer to home, the top eight Australian universities are funded at levels one and a half times higher than comparable universities in this country," said Professor Mackay. "New Zealand universities are in danger of becoming the poor relations against internationally-benchmarked standards," he said.

"In the US, compensation from the government for increased costs, such as salary increases, is readily provided," Professor Mackay said. "Given the costs of living are roughly the same when expressed between currencies, this shows the level of funding in New Zealand is in danger of severely reducing our capacity to perform internationally. For example, the prestigious universities place enormous emphasis on recruiting high quality staff."

Association of University Staff (AUS) Branch President, Professor Peter Barrett endorsed Professor Mackay's comments. "We know it is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain expert staff and to properly support those we currently have," said Professor Barrett. "NZ Universities are living on borrowed time after a decade of chronic underfunding and the Government's budget offer fails to address this. They'll need to rethink if they really want to catch the 'knowledge wave'."

The AUS has called for a crisis summit of all NZ universities in order to seek agreement on a realistic counter-offer to the Government's budget proposal.

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