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NZVCC Newsletter

NZVCC Newsletter

Vol. 9   No. 16                       September 2009

Publication launched to mark 50th anniversary of Commonwealth Scholarships

A publication to mark the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) was launched at a recent reception at Parliament Buildings hosted by the Speaker, the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith, in association with the NZVCC.  A former Commonwealth Scholar to Australia, Hon Dr Smith welcomed more than 150 guests including current Commonwealth Scholars and CSFP alumni.

Other guests included Commonwealth diplomatic representatives, staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and NZAID, tertiary education and RS&T sector representatives, staff from university scholarship offices and representatives from other scholarship bodies and the international education industry.

NZVCC chair Professor Roger Field thanked the Speaker for hosting the function and drew attention to the distinctive nature of the CSFP in that talented scholars were “just not sent in one direction”.  They traversed the globe, made connections and shared their experience and culture with others.  Up to 60 scholars study in New Zealand on Commonwealth Scholarships at any one time with NZAID providing funding to support scholars from developing Commonwealth countries and New Zealand universities funding Commonwealth Scholarships for students from the United Kingdom and Canada.

Professor Field then introduced the Hon Dr Smith who delivered a rousing address of welcome which referenced some of his own experiences as a Commonwealth Scholar including an initial appearance on television.  An equally dynamic speech was made by MFAT CEO John Allen on the CSFP’s impact on international relations.  Andrina Thomas, a current Commonwealth Scholar from Vanuatu who is completing a social enterprise PhD at the University of Waikato, then spoke.  She told the audience that on her return to her home country she intended to become a role model and mentor for Ni-Vanuatu women.  More Ni-Vanuatu women should be encouraged to step up and take the reins of decision-making.  Andrina launched the anniversary publication and invited guests to take a copy as they left.

Ceremonies were concluded with Professor Field referring to the key role in the CSFP played by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom.  The commission was represented at the reception by a commissioner, Professor Martin Snaith, with Professor Field passing on the appreciation of Commission chair Professor Tim Unwin for New Zealand’s contribution to Commonwealth Scholarships.

A PDF of the publication to mark the 50th anniversary of the CSFP is available on the NZVCC website at:

Hard copies of the publication are available from the NZVCC secretariat, email

Photographs taken at the reception can be viewed at:

OECD report points to under-investment in universities

The release last week of the OECD report Education at a Glance 2009 once again drew attention to New Zealand’s under-investment in its university system.  The report said New Zealand spent just over US$13,000 per tertiary student a year, compared to US$21,500 for Australia and the United Kingdom and more than US$36,000 in the United States, with all figures adjusted for purchasing power parity.  A story in The Press highlighted the disparity in tertiary education spending and quoted NZVCC deputy chair Derek McCormack as saying that the Government was playing a high risk game through the sustained lack of new investment in the country’s universities.

The report did give New Zealand a relatively high rating in terms of tertiary education attainment with 25% of the working age population holding a degree-level qualification, ahead of Australia at 24% and the United Kingdom at 22%.  However, Mr McCormack told The Press that New Zealand universities’ ability to turn out top graduates would be compromised at some point because continued underfunding would have the institutions struggling to attract high quality academic staff.

In a NZVCC media release commenting on the latest edition of Education at a Glance, Mr McCormack pointed to the words of OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria: “Education has always been a critical investment for the future, for individuals, for economies and for societies at large - in today’s economic environment, the incentives for individuals to invest time and money in education are higher than ever.”

Expanding on that theme, the OECD report said that going to university paid dividends in later life through higher salaries, better health and less vulnerability to unemployment.  In most countries the difference in pay levels between people who held degrees and people who did not was continuing to grow.

A key finding in Education at a Glance 2009 was the average net public return across OECD countries from providing a male student with a university education.  After factoring in all the direct and indirect costs, the return was almost US$52,000, nearly twice the average amount of money originally invested. For female students, the average net public return was lower because of their lower subsequent earnings. “But overall, the figures provide a powerful incentive to expand higher education in most countries through both public and private financing,” the report says.

Australian universities move to student-centred funding

The passage of the Higher Education Support Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill in Australia means that by 2012 universities in that country will be funded for every eligible student they teach, rather than through a system of rationed places.

The Bill allows Australian universities to decide how many places they will offer in approved courses, with the government funding all places offered to those students.  From 2012 there will be no cap on the number of places universities will be able to offer students.

NZVCC deputy chair Derek McCormack commented on the Australian legislative development in a NZVCC media release, noting that universities in that country were moving away from a system of rationed places at the very time New Zealand universities were strugggling to balance increasing demand in the face of a capped enrolment funding system.

The Australian legislation introduces measures to ensure quality and supports the Australian government’s goal of 40% of all 25 to 34-year-olds holding a qualification at bachelor level or above by 2025.  The Bill also makes provision for an increase in the indexation of government funding for universities.

Commenting on the latter aspect, Mr McCormack said the NZVCC had long argued for true indexation of university funding in this country to compensate the institutions for annual cost increases which exceed the consumer price index.

Australian universities have been given a financial incentive by the new legislation to expand their enrolment of students of low socio-economic status.  A total of A$325 million over four years will be provided to fund the support needed to improve completion and retention rates for low SES students.

The Bill will drive improvements in Australian higher education quality through the establishment of the independent Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, according to Australian Federal Education Ministry Julia Gillard.  TEQSA’s work will be supported by tied performance funding.  In 2011, universities that have agreed to quality targets will receive A$90 million to help them achieve their targets.  In 2012, up to A$135 million will be distributed to the universities that have met those targets.

Budget measures detrimental to innovation system

Measures in this year’s Budget will put considerable pressure on university budgets and will be detrimental to New Zealand’s innovation system, much of which is nurtured in academic environments, according to an editorial in the latest issue of New Zealand Science Review, the official journal of the NZ Association of Scientists.

Commenting on tertiary education measures in the Budget, the editorial said Vote Education was an integral component of overall government investment in research and development, amounting to $189 million or 24% of total investment.

“In this context, the Government signalled its commitment to grow the Performance-Based Research Fund to $250 million by 2010/11 and maintain it at this level.  Other changes in the Budget allocation that impinge on science include disestablishing training grants, Top Achiever doctoral awards, the Capital Investment and Tripartite Adjustment Funds, and halving the Innovation Fund,” the editorial said.

A president’s column in the same issue of New Zealand Science Review labelled Budget measures affecting universities as short sighted, particularly the axing of the Top Achiever awards and the “real dollar decline in university-negotiated budgets”.

“With funding for approximately 80 new scholars per year, on a rough estimate this equates to approximately 2% of our new PhD students each year across every discipline.  Yet it equates to those that are the best.  Yes, these students will probably pick up other scholarships – but will the offers they accept be here in New Zealand or will they be overseas?  Also, what of those students who are just exceptionally good rather than the very best?  They will now not get scholarships because they have been bumped off the other scholarships lists by the best students.  What happens to them, and can New Zealand afford to lose them as well?,” wrote NZ Association of Scientists president Associate Professor Kathryn McGrath from Victoria University of Wellington.







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