MPs must not rush debate on huge change to tertiary education funding

Posted By TEU on Jul 5, 2017 |

MPs must not rush debate on a change of law that would give for-profit tertiary education companies equal funding to universities, polytechnics and wānanga, more than one-hundred students, academics, general staff and union representatives have told Education and Science Select Committee Chair, Jian Yang MP, in an open letter published today to coincide with the Committee’s latest hearing on the tertiary education Bill [1].

The new law would give Ministers greater powers to divert public funds away from public tertiary education providers and hand them to private companies instead. There are widespread fears this could reduce access to tertiary education for future generations of students. The open letter says MPs need to allow more time for New Zealanders to learn about the proposed
changes and to participate in a discussion about what they mean for public tertiary education.

The open letter was prompted by concerns that National is trying to get the law passed before the election. More than 2,000 people recently wrote to the Select Committee telling MPs they reject the changes and instead want a tertiary education sector that is public, local and focused on teaching and learning. Trying to pass the law before the election would not allow for
enough time to consider this wide range of views, the letter says.

Sharn Riggs, national secretary of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU), said: “National is rushing to quietly push through this law before the general election, which will fundamentally change the way tertiary education is funded. The law is opposed by thousands of people and we are worried that these views won’t be properly listened to. MPs need to set aside more time so we can have a proper public debate about what this legislation means for the millions of Kiwis hoping to access tertiary
education now and in the future.

Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, the University of Auckland, said: Increased privatisation of our tertiary sector is a matter of huge public interest, and many voices need to be given the opportunity to be heard.”

Professor Jane Kelsey, the University of Auckland, said: “Giving tax-payer subsidies to the for-profit private education industry, while continuing to starve the public tertiary sector of funds is part of a conscious strategy by the National government to privatise the public universities and polytechnics, on top of increasing political control of their governance. Once in place, this law may be irreversible under New Zealand’s trade in services obligations. Even without that trap, universities that are being so deliberately run down that a future government will find it extremely difficult to re-establish their international standing, intellectual capital, and public good role.”

Carla Jeffrey, Te Tumu Āwhina TEU Te Toi Ahurangi said: “Transferring large sums of public money away from public-funded, local institutions to private for-profit providers could have a huge impact on Māori access to and participation in tertiary education. We are worried that the Select Committee is not allowing enough time to look
at what these implications for Māori might be. I hope the Select Committee’s chair, Dr. Yang, will listen to our concerns and allow more time for a public discussion about how opening up tertiary education to private and profit-driven providers will impact Māori.”

Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, the University of Auckland, said: “What’s the old saying? Act in haste, repent at leisure. This is an important decision that will affect our children’s future. Let’s make sure the Select Committee have time to hear all the evidence and make the right decision.”

Professor Jack Heinemann, the University of Canterbury, said: “To redirect already scarce public monies from public universities to profit-driven private providers could in the long run mean fewer options for students and less support at all degree levels. The proposed changes should be seen for what they are: a way to distract the public from government’s unwillingness to fund education at the levels it should. MPs need to allow more time to debate what this means for the future of tertiary education.”

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