Grant Robertson’s first Budget has worsened the funding crisis facing tertiary education.
Speaking ahead of the Budget announcement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told organisations gathered in Parliament that it would provide a foundation for the future. An hour later this aspiration was dealt a severe blow by Robertson’s failure to invest further in tertiary education.
The need for a well-functioning, quality tertiary education sector is the common thread that runs through every one of the commitments made in Budget. The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) welcomed many of these commitments but was left wondering how they can be met when without further support for the sector.
Building the houses we so desperately need is simply not possible without trained builders. The Government also cannot ensure kids get primary healthcare unless there are enough trained GPs, or care for people without trained social workers, or tackle climate change without skilled scientists.
“We knew the Labour-led government could not reverse National’s nine years of neglect of our sector overnight, but we did expect them to better understand how important tertiary education is to meeting the commitments they have made,” Sharn Riggs, national secretary of the TEU, said.
Treasury figures recently analysed by the TEU show that cumulative underfunding to the sector reached $3.7 billion this year from 2009 levels. This funding hole is set to get even bigger
following the Budget’s failure to provide an inflation-linked funding increase to the sector.
Institutions simply cannot keep pace with the increased costs of running the sector, as the slew of annual reports published recently show. Salaries in the sector are also falling behind, which could have an impact on the quality of people the sector is able to attract.
Shortly after the Budget, Education Minister Chris Hipkins signalled his commitment to reforming the funding model, which was welcomed by the TEU. Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, said work on this needed to begin immediately.
“Labour is at risk of going into the next election having fulfilled its commitment to provide one year of free tertiary education, which we welcomed, but little else of substance to ensure these students have places study in their local communities,” Grey said.
Universities New Zealand criticised the Budget based on the policy of providing students with one year of free tertiary study. However, the criticism offered little in terms of constructive comment to help the Government fulfil its promise of a more inclusive tertiary education sector.
Fees-free is about making tertiary education more accessible to a wide range of learners. The TEU said the Government needs to learn from Universities New Zealand’s comments and look at alternative ways of measuring the success of the policy, rather than simply looking at enrolments.
Labour needs to do more to reform the sector, Grey said, so it can say to the New Zealand public that it has brought about genuine change and that in doing so it is ensuring that we as a country do have the doctors, nurses, builders, social workers and teachers we desperately need.
The TEU has also called on Vice-Chancellors to start working with the rest of the sector to ensure every institution can contribute positively to teaching people the wide range of knowledge and skills required to deliver on the Prime Minister’s vision of education as the foundation of a strong country and a strong economy.