Submission of the Tertiary Education Union on the Tertiary Education Commission consultation document “Measuring completion rates for performance linked funding”
10 December 2010
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Options for measuring completion rates for performance linked funding
The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa welcomes this opportunity to respond to the consultation document “Measuring completion rates for performance linked funding”. As the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector, (in universities, institutes if technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, OTEPs and REAPs), we represent members who are likely to be affected by this policy initiative.
In our submission on the draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2010-2015, we noted our concerns about implementing a funding model that bases a portion of funding on institutional performance. Our main concerns with such a model were that it could only provide a very crude measure of the quality of the institution’s performance, and would be unable to account for variables outside of its influence that may also contribute to student completions statistics. As we noted in this submission
“A January 2008 summary paper on the Education Counts website notes that “…it should be recognised that there are many factors outside of the tertiary education system that will impact on outcomes, and that concepts of retention and completion are not always good markers of quality, and need to be read in the context of other indicators.”
Our experience of the negative impact of this type of reporting in relation to research funding and assessment, and the experiences of the compulsory sector, suggests to us that improvements in outcomes are often at the expense of important areas such as teaching, academic freedom, and programme offerings. The outcome then tends to be a focus on the ‘easy targets’ for lifting statistics (be it research performance or in this case, student retention and completions), with other areas that may have a range of particular challenges that impact on performance being side-lined. This type of “gaming’ of the system and pressuring staff to focus on particular areas at the expense of others, to ensure performance statistics are maintained, has been all too common since the inception of the PBRF model, and we are very concerned that similar behaviour will become the norm with this model.
Along with our general concerns about performance based funding, we fear that the new completions-based funding system has the potential to undermine the network of national and regional delivery that has been established for the sector. Experience has shown that performance-based systems tend to reinforce competitive behaviour, rather than encourage the more collaborative approaches that are needed for our tertiary education system. Recent examples include the elaborate marketing campaigns that many TEIs run, in a competition for students, despite the fact that most if not all are at capacity for enrolments, with many restricting intakes for 2011.
Of course we want the tertiary education system to deliver quality programmes and provide the very best tertiary education opportunities for learners, by focusing on continuously improving performance across a range of measures. However to tie performance to funding allocations, in an already financially constrained environment, is in our view a poorly considered response, particularly in light of the many issues raised by the TEU and others in regards to the PBRF model. Our view is that the narrow focus of the retention/completions-based model is unlikely to achieve anything other than superficial changes in performance statistics, and is more likely to encourage ‘gaming’ by institutions as they compete for funding. As well, the model has the potential to adversely affect TEIs that have a higher proportion of students who enter tertiary study requiring greater levels of pastoral care and academic support.
For these reasons we are not going to provide detailed responses to the three options outlined in the consultation document. At this stage we would simply like to again record our opposition to the model as it is currently constructed.