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Tertiary providers and unions hope for further funding boost

8:12 pm on 14 May 2018

Tertiary institutions are hoping Labour's first budget will deliver some financial relief after a decade of austerity but National says there won't be any money left in the coffers once the government forks out for its zero fees policy.

Tertiary Education Union national president Sandra Grey. Photo: Supplied

Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey said tertiary education spending was $3.7 billion short of where it should be.

"That has real world impacts," she said.

"We've had 130 reviews or so in the last year of programmes of teaching, of libraries of support services and we've seen cuts to services, cuts to teaching, cuts to where we'll deliver."

During its three terms, the National government increased student subsidies for a small number of subjects but delivered minimal or no increases to most others, while telling the sector to enrol more foreign students if it wanted more money. It also reduced or cut access to loans and allowances for postgraduate and older students.

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the future of the sector was probably one of the biggest challenges facing the government.

"It's not just a case of saying, 'Oh well gosh, we'll put some more money into that and then we'll solve the problem.' It won't."

National Party tertiary education spokesperson Paula Bennett said the government would have little money for tertiary education because its policy would cost $2.8 billion over four years.

"I don't expect much for tertiary. I think they've already spent it, and in an area where they're not really getting results for it either," she said.

Ms Grey said there were a lot of demands on this year's budget but it was time for the government to at least begin the process of restoring tertiary education funding.

"We don't have a lot of hope that this is going to be the budget that actually turns things around, but we want a signal that this government has a real plan for how we make sure that all Kiwis have access to the things we need, like a tertiary education."

Institutes of technology and polytechnics were particularly hard hit by a combination of a downturn in enrolments and the lack of government funding.

New Zealand Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (NZITP) spokesperson Charles Finny said a funding increase would be welcome.

"Certainly funding has not kept pace with costs," he said.

Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said the decline in funding had contributed to universities' steady drop in international ranking tables.

"We're starting to see a real pressure on the New Zealand university system just to maintain quality."

Mrs Bennett said academic salaries needed to be competitive to ensure universities' research was regarded internationally.

"We want to be keeping the best and the brightest here in New Zealand and to do that we have to have universities that can compete internationally."

New Zealand of Union of Students' Associations president Jonathan Gee said he hoped the budget would include further spending on loans and allowances.

"There needs to be some urgent attention to other areas of student support that haven't yet been addressed such as the lack of a postgraduate allowance, such as the age discrimination placed on those over 40 in terms of the student allowance, and loan living costs as well."

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