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Bill English - National Education 31 March 2006

31 March 2006

More Students With More Debt

Who wanted more students with more debt and fewer students on student allowances? Probably no one, but that's what the Labour Government believes will happen. Officials forecast a 27% increase in new debt by 2009, and that the number of borrowers will increase form 165,000 to 209,000. Total debt will be $300 million higher than under the existing policy.

At the same time, the number of students receiving student allowance has been dropping at a rate of about 5% a year despite increases in the income test threshold. Politicians have responded to pressure to reduce the cost of debt rather than the causes of debt, such as the level of fees subsidy and living costs. So the Government will provide a growing proportion of student support through loans and a reducing proportion through allowances that don't have to be repaid.

And That's Conservative

It turns out that the increase in student loans as result of the "no interest while studying" policy is much higher than the Government has let on. Before the election, Trevor Mallard said there was only a small percentage increase in the number of students borrowing as a result of this policy. However, an OIA request reveals the true story. Among full-time polytechnic and university students, 20% more borrowed when the new policy came in. Official estimates of a 27% increase for full interest-free loans look conservative. Mallard's figures were distorted by large numbers enrolling in free distance-learning courses at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, and big increases in part-timers.

Digital Divide Between Parents and Schools

Steve Maharey told Parliament that parents can access Schoolsmart information -provided they go to the school to get it. He calls this "the right context ", which apparently means the principal's office. So the world goes real time digital and the Internet kills the tyranny of distance, but parents have to turn up and watch the principal at the keyboard to find out about their schools.

The Minister is starting to turn himself inside out defending the indefensible secrecy of Schoolsmart. Maharey has broken whatever undertakings were made to schools about their data because he has released hundreds of pages of data about individual schools as answers to parliamentary questions. There appears to be neither rhyme nor reason to the distinctions he has made between data he is willing to release and data he is holding back. The Schoolsmart website, however, provides a more sensible context for presenting and using this data.

Auditor-General slams TAMU Officials

In his own polite language, the Auditor-General slammed ministry and education officials in the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit. Over the past five years this small group of officials and expensive hanger-on consultant advisors has monitored a dozen polytechnics and one wananga into persistent financial failure.

The Auditor-General suggested that the busloads of Wellington officials who have toured the wananga's offices over the past three years could have done a better job. Howard Fancy should sort out TAMU before he goes. Under Steve Maharey, officials unfortunately dropped their standards to his level. The Minister didn't want to upset anyone, so officials pretended that polytechnics and the wananga were going fine. Like anyone else who has watched, the Auditor-General can't understand why the Government has made such a mess of its ownership interest in polytechnics.


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