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NZ Should copy Aus To Boost University Graduates

Media Release 11 March 2009

Nz Should Emulate Australian Move To Boost University Graduates

The Australian government’s intention to increase university graduate numbers from 2010 underscores the need for a similar goal for New Zealand, according to the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.

Derek McCormack, deputy chair of the NZVCC which represents the country’s eight universities, points out that less than 30 per cent of New Zealanders aged between 25 and 34 years currently have a bachelor’s degree or higher degree yet the equivalent proportion in Australia is 32 per cent.

“What’s more, the Australians are now moving to boost that figure to 40 per cent by 2025 by removing the university enrolment cap and funding student demand. What that means is an additional 550,000 Australian university graduates.

“New Zealand needs to consider a similar, long-term public investment in university education if it is to remain remotely competitive on an international basis. This is reinforced by the fact that other jurisdictions have set targets higher than that proposed by the Australians – the United Kingdom and Sweden both want 50 per cent of their 24 to 35 year-year-olds to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in the years ahead.”

Mr McCormack says it is now abundantly clear just how much weight Australia is placing on higher education investment, with other announcements signalling increased public spending on both vocational education and policies aimed at increasing higher education participation by lower economic status groups.

“In New Zealand, the number of Māori moving from school to degree level study is increasing slowly and that progression needs to accelerate, particularly for males. The rate of Maori participation in study at this level is still less than half that for students overall. Further, Maori and Pasifika students are less likely to complete their qualifications. New Zealand universities want to work with government on initiatives to further improve these participation and retention rates and taking a long-term investment approach will achieve this.”

Three separate announcements by Australian Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard in recent days amount to wholesale reform of the Australian higher education system. The announcements are the Australian government’s response to a higher education review led by Professor Denise Bradley, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Australia.

Minister Gillard says a student-centred approach, with clear and strong public interest oversight, is the way forward for university funding in the 21st century. Mr McCormack echoes that sentiment, referring to the need for New Zealand to address skills shortages in the professional workforce through an increase in university graduates in the relevant disciplines.

“The Australians clearly see the connection between increased public investment in higher education and enhanced economic and social outcomes for their country. New Zealand should follow their lead to ensure this country has sufficient numbers of skilled professionals and researchers to remain globably competitive in the years ahead. Policies to increase university student numbers are more productive long term than having young people unemployed, a position the Government appears to recognise through its youth guarantee policy.” Mr McCormack says.


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