Good, but could do better. That’s the verdict of the Tertiary Education Union after six months of government efforts to reform the tertiary education sector.
Launching a scorecard of the Minister for Education Chris Hipkins’ performance, the TEU said there have been hugely positive steps towards recognising the benefits public tertiary education brings to us all. Two examples in particular stand in stark contrast to the disastrous market-based approach of the last National government. The first is the passing of a tertiary education bill with the changes thousands of students and staff told the government to make. Second is Chris Hipkins’ ambitious Education Work Plan, with its commitment to an inclusive, public education system.
Positive steps have also been taken to end competitive funding to levels 1 – 4. However the Minister has fallen short of offering a long-term plan to change the funding model, despite TEU evidence showing the sector is woefully underfunded. There have also been moves to give students and staff a greater say in decisions affecting their places of study and work. TEU’s strongest criticism focuses on the recent Cabinet Paper in which the Minister said he wanted to see working conditions at Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics renegotiated so staff can be “used more
efficiently”. Whilst, on Friday, at the TEU conference, the Minister did back down from this statement, he needs to go further and make a clear statement that a Labour-led government will not pursue reforms that would undermine working conditions in the tertiary education sector.
Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, said:
“Chris Hipkins’ genuine attempt to rebuild our public tertiary education sector has been a welcome relief from nine years of National. Unfortunately, his efforts have been scuppered at times by some poorly thought through proposals – not least that Cabinet Paper, where the government effectively said it wanted to interfere in collective bargaining – and not involving students and staff in conversations about the future of the sector.
“That said we are seeing positive steps being taken. Rebuilding an accessible, inclusive and equitable tertiary education sector that works for all will require some bold decisions – some of which may not be popular with those that got used to National’s way of doing things. We are ready to support the Prime Minister and Minister Hipkins in standing up to these interests, so they can take the bold steps we need.”