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AUS Tertiary Update Vol 5, No 15

In our lead story this week…..
Latest statistics from the New Zealand University Students' Association (NZUSA) show that the average repayment time for male graduates with student loans has increased from 14 to 15 years while the figure for women remains at 28 years. Co-president Andrew Campbell says they show that the government's work to date has done little to defuse the student debt crisis. "If repayment times are to come down in the future, work must be done on the root causes of student loan debt: high fees and a lack of universal living allowance,” he says. Meanwhile, the Government has approved funding for the creation of new statistical information on the student loans scheme. The decision follows criticism in 2000 by the Auditor-General of the level of information available about the scheme. Statistics New Zealand will administer the database, which will include information provided by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry for Social Development and Inland Revenue. The first statistics from the project are expected at the end of September.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:
1. Student summer jobs help to continue
2. OECD report a cracked record on tertiary education
3. Student loan proposals "side-stepping" real issue
4. The message of dental fees decision
5. Tertiary Education Strategy launch date
6. Settlement in Healy Legal Dispute a "Vindication"
7. AUT threat to boycott research assessment exercises

This month's Budget includes extra money to help tertiary students into skilled work with businesses during the summer break. The programme was piloted last year and will be run again next summer, with refinements. The programme will again operate through Student Job Search (SJS), which will receive $484,000 to match students to businesses having problems finding staff with the appropriate skills.

While the Minister of Finance sees the recently-released OECD report as a tick of approval for current government economic policy, its comments on the tertiary education sector are stuck in the free-market groove. For example, it supports separating teaching and research, and equal treatment for private training establishments, commenting: "The government is considering changes to funding arrangements for the sector, including separating funding streams for tuition and research, making research funding more performance-related and seeking ways to steer students’ course selections. These moves should improve the system, but in making any changes it is important that private and public providers of education be treated equally." And it also appears to contradict itself when it comes to the impact of the student loan scheme on tertiary education participation. It comments at one stage that the government's "biggest single capital spending decision" has been to "increase the generosity of the student loan scheme". It concludes, however, that this is unlikely to boost tertiary participation, "especially because funding for private training enterprises has been restricted.” [A moratorium on new funding is currently in place – Ed.] Rather, the report says, the move will "largely benefit" middle-and-higher -income families". But later it observes: "In the area of tertiary education, participation has increased dramatically in the past decade, owing in part to the success of the student loan scheme and to the growth of publicly-funded private training enterprises." In either case, no evidence is given to back up the arguments. "Tertiary Update" trusts that Dr Cullen’s welcoming of the report does not extend to the comments on tertiary education. All will be revealed in the Budget on 23 May.

NZUSA says a government proposal to reduce access to the living component of student loans and re-direct existing funds into private savings schemes to which parents would contribute are insulting to students and will only make the current problems worse. The proposals are contained in a review of the student loan scheme. NZUSA co-president Andrew Campbell says the proposals "side-step" the root cause of the student debt crisis: "If Labour really wants to make a positive change, then it should increase the current parental income thresholds that haven't been adjusted in over a decade," he says. And the Alliance education spokesperson, Liz Gordon has also come out against the idea of a privatised savings scheme saying it would reinforce some of the worst inequities created by the student loan scheme.

The Otago Daily Times, in an editorial, says the landmark high court decision in favour of Otago University and a group of its dental students "seriously challenges the thinking that Parliament's decisions on funding can never be overturned". The paper says the decision rights past wrongs, pointing out that then minister, Lockwood Smith's decision to cut dentistry funding so savagely was "so erroneous that it could only be categorised as irrational". But it says that while many might have felt it was unfair, few could have thought it could ever be reversed. "Now it has," the ODT says, "it is not difficult to see how scathingly history might judge it, and some other government decisions on tertiary education, over the past decade."

The government's Tertiary Education Strategy is to be launched next Tuesday (14 May). It will outline a strategic direction for the sector, and identify priorities for the next five years. A full report will be included in next week's "Tertiary Update". However, the progress of the Tertiary Education Reform Bill has been delayed, making a smooth transition to the new Tertiary Education Commission by 1 July less likely. The delay is because of the introduction of the government's proposal for a levy on all institutions that provide education for foreign students. The Bill will now be reported back to parliament on 20 May.


The University of Toronto has agreed to a settlement in the highly-publicised case of Dr. David Healy and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Dr Healy initiated legal action last year alleging his contract had been cancelled over a lecture during which he criticised the role of pharmaceutical companies in university research. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) says the settlement is a "complete vindication" for Dr Healy.

In Britain, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) executive is to discuss a call for a boycott of future Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) unless it is spelt out in advance how funding money will be allocated. It follows an outcry from university staff and some MPs over the Higher Education Funding Council for England's failure to fully fund the RAE last year. Proponents of the boycott point to the damaging impact of that RAE on the National Health Service, where research funding cuts in medical schools will lead to job losses.

AUS Tertiary Update is produced weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the union and others. Back issues are archived on the AUS website:

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