Bill Rogers, Co-president, Te Tumu Whakarae-ā-Manga, of the Tertiary Education Union branch at NorthTec, says the future of public tertiary education in our rural communities is at stake in this election.
Tertiary education is a public, community good.
We see the huge benefits it brings to communities like Whangarei, Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Dargaville, Rāwene and Kaiwaka.
The local public provider NorthTec (Tai Tokerau Wānanga) has helped huge numbers of people develop skills, learn trades, and create knowledge, all of which helps their whānau, the hapori whānui and our ōhanga.
Unfortunately, funding to NorthTec was slashed by 11 percent in the last round, making it one of the biggest casualties of National’s efforts to funnel more and more public money to for-profit providers.
The lost funding has meant students and the community missing out on important learning opportunities, and staff losing jobs.
One of the main reasons for this is National’s misguided attempts to turn the tertiary education sector into a market.
Changes introduced over the last nine years have forced NorthTec to compete with other local, for-profit providers for its funding.
As we look ahead to the upcoming election, I am extremely worried about what another three years of National would do to public, locally provided tertiary education, particularly in communities in Northland.
Three more years of National means more of our taxpayer dollars being used to fund private and profit-driven tertiary institutions.
It will mean tertiary education funding becoming even less predictable and focused on short-term outcomes, not long-term stability.
It will also mean public institutions fighting amongst themselves for funding and enrolments – instead of focusing on providing quality education.
One of my biggest worries is that after another three years of National, the people of Northland will have fewer opportunities to access potentially life changing learning opportunities at their local institution.
Because, if a private institution becomes the main provider of tertiary education in an area, and they decide to make more money by moving to a bigger town, people in rural/provincial areas will likely have no access to local training and education.
In other words, another three years of National will mean more obstacles for Northland communities to succeed.
These communities benefit hugely from the teaching and learning at NorthTec. But they also benefit from the institution’s role as a hub of community activities in Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Dargaville, Rāwene, and Kaiwaka.
NorthTec offer facilities to community groups and organisations, builds relationships with iwi/hapū, local businesses and service organisations.
It is because of this that we have been so successful at building a long-lasting relationship with our communities.
Any commitment for-profit providers may have to forging these kinds of community connections or support is always going to be compromised by the extent to which the business can guarantee a satisfactory return to investors.
Further, for Māori access to childcare is critical to women’s participation in tertiary education. It is unlikely for-profit organisations will fund onsite kōhanga reo/childcare centres as NorthTec does.
Reducing tertiary education to a range of private gains serves no one, least of all our rural communities.
Tertiary education will be at the forefront of my mind when I go to vote in the coming weeks. What I am looking for is a government that will:
- ensure tertiary education provision is accessible to all;
- use public funds to support quality tertiary education;
- ensure communities, not the market, can decide where education is provided (e.g. rural communities such as Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Kaikohe, Dargaville, Rāwene, and Kaiwaka); and
- ensure that tertiary staff have a much greater say in the running of their institutions than National has allowed
It is currently Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and Marama Fox from the Māori Party that offer the best chance of making this happen.
Returning National to the opposition benches is the best chance we have of ensuring our communities can continue to access quality publicly funded and publicly controlled tertiary education. Let’s vote for a change on 23 September.