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University Education Vital For Economic Growth

Media Release
28 January 2004

University Education Vital For Economic Growth

University education plays a key role in lifting New Zealand’s economic performance through the provision of a highly-educated workforce, according to the new chair of the NZ Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, Professor Stuart McCutcheon.

Responding to media interpretation of comments made by Tertiary Education Commission chairman Dr Andrew West, Professor McCutcheon says it is unfortunate that the value of a university degree is being questioned.

“Good evidence exists of the salary premium a New Zealand university degree commands. The average salary for a New Zealand bachelor degree graduate entering the workforce for the first time is currently in the region of $38,500. Income levels for university graduates are substantially ahead of those for non-graduates while unemployment rates for graduates are much lower than for other workers. That level of incentive should be enough to persuade many school leavers and their parents that university education is in their best interests and well worth the investment.

“The fact that skill shortages are evident in some trades does not mean that too many people are attending university. The reason for that situation developing lies with the neglect of trade training that occurred in the 1990s and the cyclical nature of the industries involved. Skill shortages should not be used to undermine the importance of university education and its contribution to the knowledge economy.

“It is not a case of forgetting university and getting a real job as one headline dealing with Dr West’s comments declared. The jobs that university graduates gain are very real in that they contribute to New Zealand’s economic progress.”

The leader of the organization which represents the country’s eight universities says the application of knowledge gained from advanced education not only solves existing and emerging problems but also leads to new forms of wealth creation.

“In line with global developments, New Zealand’s economic advancement clearly requires the provision of skill sets with a growing level of sophistication. Universities and university education are cornerstones of a modern, vibrant economy.”

Professor McCutcheon says that university graduates can look forward to careers that will benefit them personally while potentially contributing to the nation’s social and economic well being.

“Universities are about people being educated, not just trained. That education contributes to New Zealand’s cultural landscape and ensures that our society enjoys the art, music and literature it both needs and deserves.

“Student and parents should look on education as an investment in the future and focus on the quality of what is being provided rather than the cost. In international terms, New Zealand provides university education at relatively moderate levels of expenditure by students. The greatest advance this country could make in terms of university education is to increase the level of per student investment by government in order to lift the quality of provision.”


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