Government response to Productivity Commission a missed opportunity

Posted By TEU on Jul 27, 2017 |

Tertiary Update Vol 20 No 25

The Government’s response to the Productivity Commission is a missed opportunity to reform the tertiary education system to serve the needs of students, staff and local communities.

The response suggests that if a National-led government takes power after the election it would look to extend some of the market-based polices that have failed public institutions.

The Productivity Commission made 49 recommendations in total, including making it easier for new providers to enter the system and using pricing to improve education access.

Inevitably, the government adopted some, rejected others, and marked the remainder for further consideration.

Some of the more radical recommendations that were rejected include the Commission’s call for interest on student loans and the scrapping of University Entrance exams.

One recommendation the government said needed more thought was the proposal to introduce a tender process to identify the price at which providers are willing to supply in particular fields or regions, or for students with particular characteristics.

“Asking providers to compete in a tendering process for the right to supply education and training opportunities to communities on the basis of price is madness,” Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, said.

The government identified four areas of focus requiring improvement, with a new tertiary education strategy to be developed and released in 2018.

The four areas are: creating a more student-centred system; meeting the needs of industry and employers; improving performance; and encouraging innovation and new providers and models.

The government agreed with the Commission that Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) should be able to deliver education at any location in New Zealand without pre-approval from the Tertiary Education Commission.

Encouraging ITPs to compete across the country will not drive improvements in quality. Instead it could increase the pressure on institutions to spend money on branding or cosmetic improvements rather than in the communities they serve.

“Over the past five years the government’s experiment in free market education, trialled in some levels of provision, has seen ITPs closing courses in small rural and regional communities because they’ve lost out to for-profit providers. Forcing these ITPs to compete among themselves as well as with for-profit providers would be a disaster,” Grey said.

The government said also that over the next 12 months it would review the current performance-linked funding model with the possibility of introducing a new pricing mechanism to incentivise providers to improve their performance.

The review is likely to look at performance measures related to course and qualification completions and consider exempting experimental courses from those measures.

Grey said: “It’s good to see the government agree to review these measures, however we do not accept that a pricing mechanism is a better approach. Instead we should simply retain a publicly managed tertiary education system and pool our resources to ensure access, rather expecting the market to deliver. Unfortunately the importance of giving New Zealanders control of what they need from their education system seems to have passed the government by.”

Quick “micro credentials” will also be trialled, small courses that focus on specific skills and could be as short as a few weeks. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority will trial three such programmes during the next six months and report back to the Minister.

The government rejected the Commission’s recommendation that it review the Performance-Based Research Fund to address the imbalance in tertiary education institutions’ incentives to prioritise research as opposed to teaching. It said the PBRF was well-designed to perform its functions.

The recommendation that any provider should be able to apply to the NZQA to use the terms ‘university’, ‘polytechnic’, ‘institute of technology’, and ‘college of education’ was also rejected.

The government said the proposals in the tertiary education Bill currently before Parliament, which would allow wānanga to apply to use protected terms, as private training establishments can, was sufficient.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Labour puts future of public tertiary education on ballot paper
  2. Telford transfer confirmed
  3. National must put Manukau students before profit
  4. Accreditation withdrawn from for-profit provider’s courses
  5. National’s proposed equal pay law fails to address gender pay imbalance
  6. There’s still time to share your tertiary education story

Other news

Massey University has announced that it will offer a higher education teaching programme accredited by the UK’s Higher Education Academy – Massey

The Academic Quality Agency for NZ Universities has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association with view to enhancing student voice in their academic audit processes – AQA  

Massey University is offering a new course in Latin American music – Stuff

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