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Today's issues in tertiary education

A decade ago, all full-time students received a student allowance and there were virtually no fees charged. Universities and polytechnics were significantly better funded than today, with lower student : staff ratios. Free tertiary education was the first victim of the many rounds of tax cuts since 1986.

The Alliance's aim is to redevelop a fully-funded public tertiary education system. The following policies will be introduced:

The Alliance will restore student living allowances to all students aged 16 and over without means testing, to be paid at the level of the unemployment benefit.

Fees for public tertiary education will be abolished. They will be removed over a three year period with a third of fees being removed each year. For example a student paying $3000 per year in fees will have them eliminated progressively by $1000 per year.

Tertiary education will be fully government funded in public institutions, ensuring adequate resources for the provision of high quality courses.

The student loan scheme will be abolished. Until tertiary education is entirely free the student loans scheme will continue to fund the shortfall in fees and allowances.

The interest rate on student loans for all students will be reduced to 0%.

There will be a full public enquiry into existing and future student loan debt, and the social and financial consequences of continuing to reclaim or cancel it.

Public tertiary education institutions

There has been no planning in the tertiary education system for more than a decade. In that time the system has nearly doubled in size. There have been narrowly focused reviews used by successive governments to justify reduction in spending on the sector but these have added nothing to the quality and provision of tertiary education in New Zealand.

The Alliance will appoint a Commission to examine and report, within these guidelines set out below, on unresolved issues which affect the future of New Zealand's public tertiary institutions.

It will hold public meetings at each public tertiary institution and in other towns where there is no polytechnic or university, and will report back within 12 months. The questions to be addressed by the Commission will include:

The future shape of the tertiary sector, including the role of universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and private training establishments, and the relationships between them.

Whether there should continue to be seven universities and what they should teach.

The role of the polytechnic sector in the twenty-first century.

How public tertiary education should be funded to best meet the needs of the people.

Quality issues will also be addressed.

Public tertiary institutions will continue to be governed democratically by representatives of graduates and staff, existing staff and students, government representatives and community interests, and will work closely with regional education offices to help determine how identified education needs in each region can best be met.

Employers and unions will be invited to co-operate in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Training and the Maori community to take an active role in developing tertiary education.

Labour’s policy

Today Labour announced its tertiary education policy. It would be fair to say that the Alliance is very disappointed with it. It is certainly not the Alliance policy, and the difference between the two emphasises the need for the Alliance to be represented in a new government in strength to fight for free education.

This is one of the most important issues facing the country, as anyone worried about their children’s future knows.

The Alliance is now the only party that is committed to reducing student fees.

Average fees next year will be $3500 at university or Polytech. That is far too much. It is a barrier to participation, preventing our best and brightest from getting a complete education.

When the Government costed the Alliance’s free education policy, it said student numbers would increase by 15% if fees were removed. That’s what the government itself admits.

Put another way, for every eight students, there is one who is denied an education because of fees and the policy on student allowances.

That is a tragedy for the individuals involved, and it is a blow to our country’s future. Parties pay lip service to the knowledge economy. But the best investment in the knowledge economy is free education.

It is now clear that if you want reduced fees, if you want students to be independent from their parents before they turn 25 and if you want something to be done about the $3000 million student loan debt then you are going to have to give the Alliance your party vote.

Tinkering with scholarships and reducing fees for certain courses will only create huge inequalities in the system. Tinkering with student loans repayment threshholds doesn’t address the problem of the staggering $3000 million student debt. It just puts off the date for students to repay their loan and condemns some of them to a lifetime of debt.

By refusing to change student allowances, other parties are sending the message that it’s better for young people to languish on the dole than to increase their skills through tertiary education.

Tertiary education has become a fundamental litmus test of our commitment to the future. On one side, stands all other parties who are punishing students with excessive fees and with debt. Only the Alliance is committed to reducing the student debt burden, removing fees and boosting allowances. If New Zealanders want that, they will have to use their party vote for the Alliance to get it.

The irony is, that a free tertiary education system can be funded for about the same cost as the tax cuts Bill English is planning to give away next year. It is more important to give young people a chance at the future through free education, than to give people on incomes over $100,000 a year a tax cut of $10 a week.

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