Healthy polytechnics didn’t need council shakeup

Posted By TEU on Jun 14, 2012 |


Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 20

In 2009 parliament passed a law that gutted staff and student representation on polytechnic councils and gave the minister’s own appointees an absolute voting majority. The rationale the government gave was that polytechnics, as opposed to other tertiary institutions, were struggling financially and needed new leadership. At the time parliament was debating the bill TEU noted in its submission it seemed to be a retrospective response to issues that existed in the past, and that had  largely been addressed. This is why:

Although some polytechnics struggled financially during the period 2000-2008, as a whole they performed strongly despite economic pressures. They, along with wānanga received increased government funding between 2005-2010 from the Quality Reinvestment Programme, which was short term funding that aimed to help institutions build their capability, align their provision with national priorities and strengthen their individual contribution to the national network of provision.

However, the minister of tertiary education at the time, Anne Tolley, described this as “chuck[ing] more money at the sector and hop[ing] that it would be all right”. She said polytechnics were not living within their means:

“[T]he polytechnic sector can no longer rely on additional funding being made available to address financial viability issues. Rapid, innovative, and decisive action will need to be taken by polytechnic councils and the Crown to address the educational and financial challenges facing the sector.”

Collectively polytechnics ran surpluses (before abnormal expenses) every year from 2000 to 2009. Before the law to change polytechnic council’s took effect, polytechnics collectively ran a $65 million surplus. That was 6.7 percent of their total revenue – compared to the three percent required by the Tertiary Education Commission.

In 2009 every single polytechnic ran a surplus. All but three of them exceeded three percent of revenue target set by the commission.

Over 10 years (2000-2009) polytechnics collectively averaged surpluses of 3.4 percent of revenue. Collectively over the same period universities, while also ‘profitable’ ran a slightly smaller surplus as percentage of revenue (3.3 percent).

Polytechnics made some big changes to their financial performance in those ten years. They increased the number of students (EFTS) they were teaching by 37 percent over the same period. Total full-time teaching equivalent staff numbers increased by only 12 percent (student to academic staff ratio increased from 15.0:1 to 19.7:1).

This financial stability shows there was no reason to change institutions’ councils.

Now the new minister of tertiary education, Steven Joyce, has suggested that he wants similar changes to university councils. The strong financial performances of the tertiary education sector means he can not claim we need his reforms to bring financially struggling universities in to line. So if his desire to reform university councils is not about turning around poor financial performance, he must want to remove their independence for some other reason.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. I like Katy Perry  
  2. $15 an hour for Campus Living women
  3. New Zealand puts education in the global garage sale
  4. TEU women support domestic workers’ campaign

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UK graduates contribute to the economy almost 10 times what it costs the state to educate them to degree level, research suggests – BBC

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