The Labour Party’s new tertiary education spokesperson Dr Megan Woods has challenged the government in parliament last week over its policy to abolish student allowances for post-graduate study, asking if there is a link between this and the fall in post-graduate numbers at the universities of Otago and Canterbury.
In parliament the deputy prime minister Bill English answered, agreeing that it is possible that it may have contributed.
“But you have to remember that this is in the context of the sustainability of student allowances for all tertiary students. Student allowances in 2007-08 cost $385 million. By 2010-11 they had gone up to $620 million.”
However he rejected the vice-chancellor of the University of Otago, Professor Harlene Hayne’s statement that the drop in postgraduate student numbers was almost certainly the result of students deferring postgraduate study because of the Government’s decision to abolish postgraduate student allowances.
Megan Woods noted that of the 1,000 fewer than expected students at the University of Canterbury in 2013 around 100 are postgraduate students—that is a 12 percent decline in postgraduate students versus a 7.5 percent decline in undergraduate students. She suggested that the abolition of postgraduate allowances has contributed to the fall of enrolments and has put further pressures on an already financially strained university.
Megan Woods then asked Bill English to commit to an October deadline for deciding the full extent and timing of Government support that ensures the continuation of a broad-based and research-intensive University of Canterbury.
Bill English said the government would want to make a decision as quickly as it could;
“But that will depend to a significant extent on the quality of the business case. But the member needs to remember that she cannot have it both ways. Her party portrays itself as a party of fiscal responsibility. It cannot then go opposing every single measure that leads to keeping the books in better shape.”