Budget Falls Flat On Tertiary Education
A post-Budget forum convened by student associations today (Friday 17 May) at Victoria University of Wellington has challenged the continued absence of vision for tertiary education shown in this year’s Budget.
Forum panel members agreed that the Budget demonstrated no tangible sense of a bigger picture vision for the tertiary education sector, noting that this persistent lack of a long-term vision was a hallmark of Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce’s technocratic approach to his portfolios.
Tertiary education expert Max Kerr said it was unrealistic for a Minister and his officials “not to fiddle with tertiary education settings but we need some vision to go with the fiddling, otherwise we don’t know if the fiddling is meant to take us where we want to go”.
Former Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey said the cumulative effect of tinkering under Mr Joyce’s time as Tertiary Education Minister, compounded by a lack of new investment, is putting a severe squeeze on opportunities for equal access to quality tertiary education.
“Tertiary staff can only paper over cracks of an under-funded system for so long without something starting to give that will result in a reduction in quality for learners, and risk perverse consequences that nobody wants, like fewer Māori and Pacific students and people aged over 40 being able to afford to study for higher degrees.
Grey highlighted the difficulty of combatting decisions that are being rolled out in the form of damagingly discrete cuts that are buried in layers of complex and often hard to unpack data.
She suggested that Budgets that pursue “mechanical efficiency for mechanical efficiency’s sake”, or that are motivated by the false science of picking winners and losers, quickly lose sight of the human and intergenerational costs of education cuts.
Two actions were agreed as a result of the forum. First will be a concerted push to provide Tertiary Education Commission officials with input to the drafting stage of the next Tertiary Education Strategy. Second will be a combined effort to collect examples of wasteful institutional and individual expenditure associated with meeting the compliance costs imposed by the continual tinkering with tertiary education.
Independent economist Keith Rankin compared the arrangement of the current student support schemes to a “make-work scheme for bureaucrats” that creates more deadweight costs than are saved by parsimonious Budget cuts, and is therefore inefficient.
Rankin closed the forum by arguing that it is time to look at alternative accounting-based models that would do a better job of recognising the long-term returns from a more equitable approach to investing in tertiary education – both at the individual and public levels.
He has estimated that it should be possible to convert a proportion of the current range of tax and welfare subsidies to free up an equitable sum of $9,000 each year for each New Zealander. For people enrolled in tertiary study, for instance, this could go towards their living costs and enable greater access to tertiary education, free from expensive and inefficient targeting.
Also included in the model presented by Rankin are two radical proposals. One would be to lessen the load on IRD by removing its welfare functions, and disestablish Studylink by absorbing it completely into WINZ. The other is to take the management of loans for fees off the government and give it to banks.