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Call to focus tertiary expenditure on quality

NZVCC Electronic News Bulletin Vol. 8 No. 17 15 October 2008

Lead item …

Call to focus tertiary education expenditure on quality

The emergence of student financial support as the major tertiary education election issue has seen a number of groups, including the NZVCC, call for a shift in emphasis to quality and relevance in tertiary education to enable productivity growth. In a media release issued yesterday, NZVCC chair Professor Roger Field said political
parties’ concentration on student financial support issues denied the fact that current student support arrangements were not acting as a barrier to participation. Interviewed by Radio New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh pointed out that the proportion of New Zealand tertiary education expenditure devoted to student financial support was more than double the OECD average.

The NZVCC position was supported by both a Wellington Chamber of Commerce media release and an editorial in today’s issue of the Dominion Post. “The focus should be on quality education rather than student allowances,” Chamber CEO Charles Finny said. “Education is vitally important for New Zealand and we support increased expenditure on it. However, like the NZVCC, we would have preferred to see the increases going toward improving the quality of education students receive.” Currently there was an imbalance between funding for students and funding for institutions and the universal student allowance policy announcement would increase that imbalance.

The Dominion Post’s take on the choice between investing in universities and the students that attend them included the following: “Already there are indications that the promise (universal student allowance) is proving popular with students, their parents and the parents of prospective students. But those who stand to benefit financially from the proposal should do what the Government has not done – ask themselves whether this is the best use to which increased funding for the tertiary education sector can be put. According to VUW Vice-chancellor Pat Walsh, New Zealand universities are now $230 million a year worse off than they were in the early 1990s. That’s $230 million they do not have to attract and retain high-quality staff, fund research and maintain and improved facilities.”

The NZ Herald also chose to editorialise today on the allowance policy announcement and its assessment was blunt: “This is ill-conceived, unnecessary and unaffordable … the universal allowance will have a annual price tag of $210 million when introduced in four years, a time forecast to feature intensified fiscal pressure … universality, as is always the case, means the allowance will go to those who do not need it … quite simply, the burden on all students is not so great as to warrant a universal allowance.”

Among those advocating additional public funding for universities in order for them to maintain quality was the Association of University Staff. In a media release issued yesterday which commented on the student allowance policy move, AUS academic vice-president Dr Grant Duncan called on all political parties to announce policies that would guarantee a greater investment in universities.

In yesterday’s NZVCC media release Professor Field described this country’s student financial support arrangements as generous by international standards and pointed to the median repayment time for interest-free student loans now being only six years. “That suggests that the tertiary education policy emphasis needs to shift to maximising universities’ distinctive contribution to our society’s economic progress. Universities constitute the bulk of New Zealand’s fundamental research capability and that resource is key to innovation in the economy. The eight institutions themselves have responded to the need to increase their revenue from other sources, such as the commercialisation of research and international students. It is now time for our political leaders to step up and match that with increased public investment in the university system.”

Other items …

Funding identified as number one higher education issue

An emphasis on the need for further and continuing investment in education systems is a feature of this year’s edition of the OECD publication Education at a Glance, according to VC-Net, an Association of Commonwealth Universities news service. The publication also highlights the increasingly important role of private investment in tertiary education. Key findings in Education at a Glance, according to VC-Net, include the fact that in the decade to 2005 the share of public expenditure for tertiary education decreased in 22 of the 28 OECD member states with comparable data. Although the level of decline varied, overall the average share of public funding fell by 6% between 1995 and 2005.

In Australia and the United Kingdom, falls in the share of public expenditure were well above average, dropping from 65% to 48% in Australia and 80% to 67% in the UK. “Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, the share of public expenditure in Canada and New Zealand was also relatively low at 55% and 50% respectively.” According to VC-Net, the OECD publication emphasises that no country can afford to leave a policy vacuum in the financing of tertiary education at a time of rapid growth and competition in the sector. Expanded participation had placed greater pressure on the resources of tertiary sectors across OECD member states, with some countries responding with greater public investment, others with increased private expenditure and a further group with a mix of both models.

Welcome news on Commonwealth Scholarships to the UK

Dr Charles Tustin, who convenes the NZVCC Scholarships Committee, has welcomed the partial restoration for 2009 of Commonwealth Scholarships to the United Kingdom for students from developed Commonwealth countries.

A decision by the UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills led to the restoration and followed strong representations by a group of prominent former Commonwealth Scholars and associated international interests who mounted a campaign to have the scholarships reinstated.

The original Commonwealth Scholarships Scheme for developed Commonwealth countries – Australia, the Bahamas, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Malta, New Zealand and Singapore - extended to both masterate and doctoral study and was dropped as a result of the UK Foreign Minister cutting £10 million of scholarships expenditure.

The awards for developed countries will now be for doctoral study only, and will be co-funded by UK universities. To date Cambridge, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Oxford universities have confirmed their participation.


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