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Policy Preoccupation Unhelpful

14 October 2008

Policy Preoccupation Unhelpful

The current political emphasis on student financial support as an election issue is unhelpful for New Zealand’s tertiary education and economic strategies, according to the body which represents the country’s eight universities.

“Our strategies for the future must focus on the quality and relevance of university education and a knowledge-led society. Political parties which focus entirely on student financial support issues deny the fact that current student support arrangements are not acting as a barrier to tertiary education participation,” the chair of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, Professor Roger Field, says.

“The real issue is getting the appropriate investment balance between tertiary education institutions and the students that attend them. Universities cannot continue to maintain quality and their international reputation in the face of a sustained decline in the value of the public funding they receive.

“We have one of the highest entry rates to degree-level education in the OECD which indicates that our current student support policy settings are about right, if not too generous. One response to the global financial crisis has been a plan to invest in New Zealand’s physical infrastructure and that investment must extend to growing the nation’s intellectual and knowledge capital,” Professor Field says.

“All universities in this country need to address the issues of keeping their academic salaries internationally competitive and providing the necessary infrastructure for this, and subsequent, generations of students. Faced with deferred maintenance programmes, universities are already struggling to provide necessary student facilities and services on the current level of public funding.

“It is a fact that New Zealand’s student financial support arrangements are generous by international standards and the median repayment time for our interest-free student loans is now only six years.

“That suggests that the tertiary education policy emphasis needs to shift to maximising universities’ distinctive contribution to our society’s economic progress. Universities constitute the bulk of New Zealand’s fundamental research capability and that resource is key to innovation in the economy.

“The eight institutions themselves have responded to the need to increase their revenue from other sources, such as the commercialisation of research and international students. It is now time for our political leaders to step up and match that with increased public investment in the university system.”


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