Submission of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautu Kahurangi o Aotearoa to the Education and Science Select Committee on the Education Amendment Bill no. 4
13 May 2011
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Tertiary Education Union
Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa
Education Amendment Bill no. 4
The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa is the largest tertiary sector union in this country. Our membership currently sits at approximately 10,500 full-time equivalent members, covering all types of TEOs in the sector.
The TEU is generally supportive of the amendments proposed by this Bill, however there are aspects of some of the proposals that we believe may be problematic. Our submission will make general comments about those areas we support, as well as identifying potential problems or inconsistencies in the proposed amendments.
Improving and modernising legal arrangements for the New Zealand Qualifications Authority
The TEU agrees that there is a need to review the legal parameters of NZQA’s functions, particularly to ensure that these are in line with the work that has been undertaken for the review of qualifications. The TEU was supportive of this review – we have long advocated for tighter regulations around programme development and approvals, and noted with dismay the proliferation of provider-specific qualifications, to the detriment of a cohesive set of national qualifications. We also support the strengthening of the regulatory and enforcement framework for the Authority in relation to registration and monitoring of private training establishments. Such an amendment will ensure that the private tertiary sector is focused on the provision of quality programmes, and will discourage providers who prioritise profit over quality education and service to students. We do however have some concerns about privacy of information in regards to investigating the character of PTE board members. The NZQA will need to develop protocols to secure this information and to ensure that it is used only for the purpose for which it was collected.
Establishment of the Crown Agency ‘Education New Zealand’
There is logic in combining the functions and responsibilities of the three organisations which at present work in the field of international education by establishing a Crown Agency with overall responsibility for this work. The TEU also agrees that diplomatic accreditation which results from status as a Crown Agency will be beneficial in terms of access to international markets.
International student enrolments are an important growth area and safeguarding the government’s investment in this rapidly growing industry is critical. However the focus of this proposed amendment (i.e. an emphasis on marketing opportunities for expanding international student enrolments) is somewhat ironic when we consider other changes taking place in the tertiary sector that directly impact on the ability of New Zealand citizens to access tertiary education. For example, in response to funding restrictions, some tertiary education institutions are resorting to capped domestic student enrolments in a number of programmes not previously requiring limited entry processes. Additionally we have seen the government cut funding to schemes such as the Training Incentive Allowance that provide opportunities for sole parents to access tertiary education through additional financial support. The polytechnic sector has also taken substantial funding cuts in 2011 with the removal of capability funding and other cuts in the 2010 Budget. The implementation of these policies takes place at a time when the country is experiencing skill shortages in a number of occupational areas, and lacks a comprehensive strategy to raise productivity levels in both the short and long term.
The Minister for Tertiary Education has stated publicly that there is a need to lessen domestic demand for entry into tertiary education. Given the social and economic challenges we face as a country, it is difficult to make sense of such a position. This proposed amendment to the Education Act indicates that the government is prepared to open access for potential international students, but is not prepared to make the same commitment to domestic students. How such a strategy will assist in addressing such issues as skill shortages, productivity and social and economic disparities is unclear.
There is no doubt that at the institutional and community level, the presence and participation of international students can enrich experiences for the visiting student and domestic students. However a greater influx of international students can also create pressures on institutions and their staff. Pastoral care and language development support needs can be significant. It is crucial that these needs are met by institutions and are adequately funded, to ensure that international students are not just treated as a quick way of increasing revenue in the tertiary sector.
An influx of international students will lead, in many institutions, to pressures on teaching space and other learning support infrastructure, potentially impacting on the quality of education for all students. The government needs to be clear therefore that the additional income that results from increased international enrolments is invested into ensuring quality education outcomes for both domestic and international students.
Increasing transparency and accountability in the tertiary education system
Setting fees for the provision of student services
We recognise that the sharp increase in student levies over the past few years is unacceptable. However this increase needs to be seen in the context of tertiary sector funding cuts, which has seen institutions forced to effectively subsidise the costs of teaching and learning through levy hikes. If the so-called ‘voluntary student membership’ Bill which is currently before the House is successful, institutions face an additional problem, as the changes are likely to see student associations having to drastically reduce the services they offer, and TEIs being forced to pick them up.
We support keeping student fees down, however in the current funding environment for the tertiary sector this will then simply see the problem being shifted to institutions. The broader problem is overall funding for the sector. The government needs to move from its position of viewing the tertiary sector as an area to remove funding from to one that recognises the importance of its contribution to social and economic transformation. The tertiary sector can only fulfil this role if adequate investment is made.
Administering student loans and allowances
We agree that it makes sense to allow Ministry of Social Development to administer student allowances, given that they already have this capacity in regards to student loans.
The Education Amendment Bill no. 4 makes some sensible proposals to clarify roles and responsibilities for agencies within the education sector. However some very fundamental issues, particularly for the tertiary sector, will not be addressed unless outstanding matters such as a government commitment to ensuring access to tertiary education for New Zealand citizens, funding levels for the sector, and a policy for a national skills strategy are put in place.