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Fee Maxima Policy In Tatters

Fee Maxima Policy In Tatters

A massive backdown is how the country’s university leaders describe the Government’s last-minute decision to change its fee maxima policy on student tuition fees.

Despite the policy being announced in the Budget and details confirmed in a notice in the New Zealand Gazette, tertiary education institutions have now been told they must limit tuition fee increases for 2004 to no more than five per cent.

“The fee maxima policy gave institutions some flexibility in setting tuition fees next year. University councils would have used that flexibility responsibly to address existing fee anomalies when they set fee structures for 2004. Now Government has simply abandoned its own policy and left the entire tertiary education sector high and dry,” the Executive Director of the NZ Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, Mr Lindsay Taiaroa, says.

“Over the past three years Government has imposed a freeze on tuition fees. The fee maxima policy was directed at bringing that situation to a close while continuing to address student concerns over fee levels. All of a sudden the freeze has turned into a squeeze and it’s the institutions which are again under pressure.

“To say this change came as a complete surprise is an understatement. Vice-Chancellors were not party to any discussions and if institutions had been consulted about their fee plans there may have been no need to alter the policy.

“While the amended fee maxima policy does allow a further five per cent increase - in addition to of the five per cent limit - in exceptional cases, at this stage universities have no way of knowing how strictly that aspect of the policy will be administered.

“The Government appears to have caved in to political considerations in implementing its fee maxima policy, while pursuing a tertiary education strategy that has among its objectives the need to strengthen capability, quality, research, knowledge creation and uptake to give this country a knowledge society. A backdown of this magnitude makes achieving these goals extremely difficult.

“The situation is compounded by the fact that Government intends to adjust fee maxima in future years using the Cost Price Index. This is clearly unsuited for the purpose given that over the past five years the CPI has risen by just 9.9 per cent while earnings have risen by 19.4 per cent. Staff costs are definitely the major item for universities as they struggle to attract, retain and reward their staff and maintain quality at international standards.

“The Vice-Chancellors’ Committee has therefore asked Government to immediately appoint a working party to consider the most appropriate escalator for fee maxima, based on actual costs universities and other tertiary institutions face. If Government will commit to that course their tertiary education strategy may yet be achievable.”

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