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Budget a missed opportunity, say universities

The Government has utterly failed to back up its rhetoric about the future of work and the importance of preparing for the challenges of technological change, according to the Vice-Chancellors of New Zealand’s universities.

“Over the past 20 years, successive governments have chosen to focus on lowering the cost of university education to students, rather than raising the quality,” says Professor Stuart McCutcheon, Chair of Universities New Zealand and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland.

“This Government has accelerated that trend, throwing $600 million of taxpayers’ money at its fees-free policy while not even providing in the Budget for tertiary funding to keep up with inflation. This will cost the universities between $18 and $36 million a year.

“Before this Budget, our universities were being funded below the OECD average, at the same level as countries like Slovenia, Spain, and Estonia. Already we are having to restructure our operations to cut costs, and we will inevitably see that process accelerated now with further cuts in staffing.

“Today, the Government has again failed to seize the opportunity to put this right, and we call on them to invest significantly more so it can provide New Zealand with the quality university sector it needs to succeed.

“Because universities are not being funded appropriately, New Zealand is missing out on the benefits that come from having a sector that is best able to prepare people well for the effects of technological change and the demands of globalisation during their working lives.”

Executive Director of Universities New Zealand Chris Whelan says, “Because of continued underfunding, we will see further slippage in university rankings despite the hard work and commitment of university staff. Universities will struggle to provide young New Zealanders access to a world-class university education. They will struggle to develop innovative research that benefits all New Zealanders. And it will be more difficult to attract international students to New Zealand universities—students who currently bring $1 billion to the economy annually.

“Government should be investing in the development of skills and knowledge to build an innovative, internationally-competitive, knowledge-based economy.

“This requires New Zealand to be able to deliver world-class teaching to carry out world-class research. This budget fails New Zealand and New Zealanders by contributing to further erosion of a system that is already at breaking point.”

/ends

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