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Panel Discussions - In response to STEVE MAHAREY interview

Q+A 2013 Episode 12 26/05/2013
Panel Discussions

Panel Discussions
hosted By Susan Wood

In response to STEVE MAHAREY interview

Jon Johansson, Helen Kelly and Charles Finny. Now, Charles, you were on the board of Education New Zealand, marketing NZ education overseas. And, Helen, of course, Association of University Staff General Secretary, and you didn’t get this one in the union, even though you tried for years and years and years. I don’t know how you failed on that one. Is there too much emphasis, Charles, on the funding?

CHARLES FINNY - Former Diplomat
Well, look, um, every university is struggling in this space. I think that there is huge opportunity, not just domestically but internationally for more students and also more research associations with other universities, research institutes internationally. So there is a lot of opportunity out there, but you have to be well funded to deliver a high quality product. We’ve got an excellent tertiary education sector. We’ve got to keep it there and ensure it is well funded.

SUSAN Is Steve Maharey right? It’s about reputation. It’s ok we’ve got all these universities overlapping in territories, Helen Kelly?

No, I don’t think it is. I think in this tight economic environment, the first thing is these universities are just turning into businesses. The budget emphasis on foreign student funding, which is the only really big increase in funding, PTE funding, big increase in the budget, is all about making money off education, rather than quality. Even the focus on cheating. You know, there’s very little scrutiny of quality, and what we see is classes getting bigger, student-to-staff ratios ever increasing, and actually if we’re going to fund it, there’s a huge amount of money going into tertiary education. One of the things we should be checking - and this is not box-ticking quality - this is about the education of students coming out with at the end, is it fit for purpose, is it high quality for NZ students?

JON JOHANSSON - Political Scientist
I do also think that we do suffer from the overlapping. That as a country of only 4.5 million, is it a luxury- I should only use my own discipline to not be unfair on anyone else. But is it right that we teach politics in every university? And then into our polytechs as well? You’ve got to ask the question there. So I think with tertiary education, for a country of 4.5 million people, you’ve got to balance, you know, our history of where we’ve come from, which is about participation and access so every Kiwi gets the chance to be able to advance themselves and acquire more knowledge because they will be richer New Zealanders for doing so.

SUSAN Sure, but would you cut back the number of institutions? Or, in your particular discipline, the number of courses?

JON I think you’ve got to actually use a heavier instrument than what we have done, in terms of trying to direct the behaviour of the universities to specialise around what they are good at. The cues that are given to the universities, in my view, are too diffuse and with mixed signals as well. So I think, actually, it needs to be far more directive. Where are the specialisations in Vic? Obviously at Vic we’re in the seat of the capital. So things around the government and the humanities. But do we need such luxurious humanities all around the rest of the country? I think Auckland demands whatever Auckland wants because of the virtue of its population.

SUSAN Let me get Charles Finny in here. It would seem to me the government’s sending some fairly clear signals on what they actually do want in terms of they want more engineering, they want more science. They want more computer-science type people coming out of universities.

CHARLES And increased funding is being linked to those disciplines, and likewise at the polytechnic sector, there is a real focus on those skills that are going to be needed for the Christchurch rebuild.

HELEN But at the same time, they’ve cut the funding for 40-year-olds, because we’re all washed up now when you’re over 40, so that you can only do only do a three-year course. Now, engineering and science-

SUSAN But surely if you’re 40, can’t you fund yourself?

HELEN Not if you’re poor, no. Engineering and science are actually four-year courses, so there’s this mismatch between what the government says it wants. No other programme got a funding increase this year except engineering and science. At the same time-

SUSAN Let’s be fair, Helen, the government’s put in 13.5 per cent more funding in the past four years into universities.

HELEN Into specific areas, but not into general course teaching improvements. So if Steve Maharey’s targeting 40-year-olds and 50-year-olds and that’s why he’s on the telly, but the government’s cutting 40-year-olds’ funding and also saying engineering- People are more likely if they do an engineering or science degree later to actually practise in engineering and science. If they do it too young, they’re actually likely - especially sciences - to move onto something else at a later time. So it’s actually an investment if we want 30, 40 years of engineering and science practice.

SUSAN Jon, you’re dying to get in.

JON Yeah, I’m just so with Helen on that one. Given that we are all going to work longer and given- I mean, I’ve always harked back to Bill Clinton here, because this really was the thrust of the Clinton presidency was to prepare his countrymen and women to the notion that learning is lifelong. So you have to be able to facilitate mid-career change. And particularly when mechanisation means that we’re going to have to use more of this [indicates to his brain].

SUSAN Yeah, but there has been some nonsense with the system, Charles Finny. 65-pluses, well, finally they cut the student loans to them. Well, I mean, there’s not going to be a great return to the workforce for a
65-year-old retraining, is there?

CHARLES Yeah, I think there have been some instances of 65-year-olds-plus taking good advantage of the policy, but I think Helen is right. The nature of the workplace has changed, and you don’t enter into a job at age 21 and expect to be doing that same job at age 70. You’re going to have to retrain all your life.

JON Yeah, you continually add value to yourself.

HELEN Yeah, but it’s a mismatch. We’re saying they can have three years of funding, but we’re saying we want people to do science and engineering, which is a four-year course. If you have a look at teaching or some of the other areas where these people may move into with all of their life experience. By the time you’re 40, you’ve worked, you’ve got an idea of what you want to do, and we’re saying we’ll cut you short and make you do something less skilled.

SUSAN Thank you, panel.


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