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Election Bribe At Universities' Expense

Election Bribe At Universities' Expense

The universal student allowance being contemplated by the Government would amount to "an unjustified election bribe", the Vice-Chancellor of The University of Auckland, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, said today.

He was commenting on speculation that such an allowance might be introduced at a cost of $728 million over four years.

"Given that there is only a certain amount of money to be spent on tertiary education, this would further impoverish universities at a time when Government support of students is already the most generous of any western country. At the same time Government continues to constrain university incomes by funding them at a level far below their rising costs and by capping tuition fee increases."

The low level of investment in New Zealand universities would inevitably harm the quality of the education they offer, said Professor McCutcheon.

"Our universities will lose ground to those in Asia and in other countries where there has been massive investment in the tertiary sector, leading them to drop in world rankings. Already the academic salaries we can afford to pay staff are so inferior internationally - 40 percent below Australia - that we will continue to lose talented Kiwis as well as finding it hard to recruit staff from overseas."

Moreover, bright New Zealand students would be increasingly attracted to amply-funded Australian and Asian universities which were already wooing them with low fees and generous scholarships. "The University of Melbourne, for example, has double the amount per student to spend on teaching and research compared with The University of Auckland.

"Pouring money into student allowances simply to catch votes will deny New Zealanders the world-class university system which the country needs as universities' infrastructures are neglected.

"The government has put some funding into universities to help with salary costs but the amounts involved - typically $20 million a year - are trivial compared with the $182 million that the universal student allowance would cost annually. And it does not address the investment needed to bring facilities up to international standards - something in the order of $5 billion across the university sector."

The cost of such politically-driven expediency was incalculable, said Professor McCutcheon, not simply to the students but to New Zealand's economic and social development which university research underpins.

"There is no logic in providing students with cheap access to a university system that is declining in quality. I call on all political parties to join a sustained and rational debate on the policies needed to develop a quality tertiary sector."


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