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Speech: Education Amendment Bill (no 4) Third Reading

Education Amendment Bill (no 4) Third Reading
Thursday 18 August 2011; 5.15pm
Rahui Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga

There are three main aims of this Bill. The Bill sets out to amend the Education Act 1989 to
• strengthen the regulation of the tertiary education system by improving and modernising the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s legal arrangements; and
• to facilitate the expansion of international education and to safeguard the quality and reputation of the New Zealand education system and
• to increase transparency and accountability in the tertiary education system.

They’re all good concepts of course – improvements; modernisation; quality; transparency, accountability. Nothing wrong with that.
But there’s some other concepts we might add to the mix: cultural competency; inclusion; diversity; consistency; equity.

From the consultation we have done with Maori education providers they believe that the international student changes will have minimal effect on Māori students but could affect the future direction of organisations such as Te Wananga o Aotearoa in this area.
We are also informed by Te Mana Akonga – the national Maori students Association – that they are opposing this Bill – and are happy for their comments to be made public.

And I guess this brings up the point that the Maori Party places a great priority on ensuring every aspect of legislation is placed under scrutiny, as to its consistency with Maori worldviews and its impact on tangata whenua.

We know that unless we provide that specific lens in looking at legislation that voice will be absent from the debate – no other party here in Parliament is present in this debate – or in fact any of the bills that have been put through urgency – to speak to the issues from a Maori perspective.

Te Mana Akonga told us that Māori students need to be represented at council level to ensure Māori views are heard where decisions are made – and this hasn’t occurred in this bill.

They also told us that Māori students need to be included in any group that determines Key Performance Indicators for tertiary institutions – again this Bill doesn’t provide for this.

And of course a key concern for them – as it is with the Maori Party – is the consequences if the Education Freedom of Association Amendment Bill is passed into law.

Because if that Bill succeeds – as it appears to - it will provoke increased demand for strong Māori student representation and advocacy if associations are compromised in their ability to represent and serve students.

Māori student representation must be given a seat at decision making boards throughout the institutions to ensure consistent feedback and representation throughout. They support the need for the student body and their representatives to engage with the tertiary institution on matters regarding student services levies.

In other consultation we had with Maori students, they had the same fear that if student associations become voluntary, the assumption is that much of the services that were previously provided by Student Associations would be passed on to Institutions. And if this was to occur, this bill gives the Minister the final say on services so really, those services could disappear completely.

The select committee did specifically address Compulsory student fees and provided clarification on the powers the Minister would have to determine student service fees. They also clarified that the Minister would have the power to require institutions to establish decision-making arrangements jointly (or in consultation) with the students enrolled at the institution. Essentially this spells out that if the Minister so chooses, students must to be involved in the determination of student services – and I guess our concern remains that the incentive must start with the Minister – the what ifs continue to plague us.

Representatives in Wananga that we talked to shared this concern. They were nervous that their future leadership could be constrained in their ability to provide some resources for students because the Minister might not allow it.

They were particularly concerned around the student services fees section. In their view, we need to watch out because in a conservative Government, Māori student services could disappear. There needs to be some recognition for services to Māori – and this Bill doesn’t enable that.

The prevailing concern was that it depends largely on how the Minister of Tertiary Education uses his or her powers. If the Minister decides to cut all under-performing services in a focus on educational quality one has to wonder what compromises will be made and how these cuts affect students.

The Minister of Tertiary Education would have the power to effectively dictate what services a tertiary institution could offer which could potentially jeopardise student services.

The other key concern raised during our consultation was around Quality Assurance and Qualifications – and particularly in relation to the implications for Wananga. As a result of this Bill, NZQA are now solely in charge of Quality Assurance which means they are taking that function away from the Universities.

The Wananga are already a key part of the Qualifications Assurance and Qualifications but their desire is that they ought to have delegated powers for quality assurance.

The changes threaten Rangatiratanga by taking away the autonomy of institutions and centralizing it in Government.

From the point of view of wananga, they are disappointed that wānanga will never, it seems, be able to do its own quality assurance in the future.

And so we continue to raise the questions from wananga as to whether NZQA has the capability to do quality assessment for a kaupapa Māori approach as well as it needs to. Universities have always been allowed to self-assess and the wananga were hoping that wānanga would have that opportunity one day too.

There are other good points in the bill – we support the Government’s attempt to reduce exploitation of students by some institutions.

The changes around the administration of student allowances seem reasonable in terms of enabling data to be accessible for better administration.

But the other concerns we have – particularly in the context created by the Education Freedom of Association Bill, means we are honour bound, on behalf of Maori students, Maori providers and wananga, to oppose this bill at this its third reading.


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