Submission on the draft exposure bill Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

Posted By TEU on Oct 17, 2016 |

Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2016

TEU submission on the exposure draft

14 October 2016

The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Ministry of Education’s draft exposure Bill “Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill”.

TEU is the largest union and professional association representing academic and general staff in the tertiary education sector (in universities, institutes of technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, and other tertiary education providers). Our members are passionate about their work and about the direction of the tertiary education sector. This exposure draft, signalling possible legislative changes has therefore been of considerable interest to TEU members.

Our response to each proposal in the exposure draft is followed by an indication of whether TEU supports or does not support the proposal, or whether we need further clarification.

1.      Increasing funding flexibility and further strengthening monitoring and compliance

The high levels of monitoring and compliance now expected of the tertiary education sector consume significant time and resources for providers and for the sector’s agencies. This is a feature of market-driven and competitive models. TEU has consistently argued that a market model is the wrong model for the sector. Quality, accountability and transparency can be achieved through more collegial models of governance in a publicly controlled sector, with better planning of provision and delivery within the sector. Our responses to the following proposals reflect that view.

Amending a funding mechanism during a plan period

We are not convinced that this proposal will address the identified issue (providing additional funding quickly when demand increases for quality programmes). If funding was based on stable broad-based provision across the sector, coupled with thorough analysis of future national and international demographic trends and occupational outlooks, then a three-year investment plan cycle could be the standard model for public and community providers. This would ensure longer-term stability in funding, whilst also providing sufficient time for trialling new programmes or courses or other innovative approaches. Other than a disaster of the nature of the Canterbury earthquakes, we cannot see what other circumstances would warrant a ‘quick fix’ approach such as that outlined in this proposal.

Therefore TEU does not support this proposal.

Adding new funding conditions to a funding mechanism during a plan period

The competitive, market-driven approach to funding and decision-making in the tertiary education sector, particularly the persistence in using taxpayers’ money to fund for-profit private providers, has created an environment that requires extensive monitoring and compliance. Allowing profit-driven providers to be funded through public contributions, while at the same time screwing down budgets for public institutions, means public and community providers are forced to compete for student enrolments and research funding.

This kind of environment creates perverse behaviours – the answer is not further monitoring and compliance but rather taking the time to honestly appraise the effectiveness of competitive and market-driven models in the sector, with concerted efforts being made to look at more collegial alternatives.

TEU does not support this proposal.

Clarifying the scope of significant plan amendments and plan replacements

The intent of this proposal – to clarify when an investment plan needs to be replaced or amended – is likely to assist with reducing compliance requirements for providers.

TEU supports this proposal.

Expanding the scope of the TEC’s condition-setting power

TEU supports a publicly owned and controlled tertiary education sector, where the Ministry of Education and/or the Tertiary Education Commission set broad goals based on detailed understanding of community, business, industry and service provider needs for the short, medium and long-term. We would argue that current powers are generally adequate. It is concerning to note that one driver for this proposal is changes in government priorities – TEU would argue that this suggests the sector being required to respond to ministerial whim, rather than a nationally agreed plan and priorities.

TEU does not support this proposal.

Improving access to information

Consistency in the provision of information across the sector is a sensible amendment to ensure a full picture of the use of funding in the sector can be achieved.

TEU supports this proposal.

Recovery of the costs of major TEC investigations of TEOs found to have breached funding conditions

Whilst we understand the intent of the proposal as a means of re-couping costs associated with investigations into possible breaches of funding conditions, we wonder about its practical application. Would the funds retrieved and the time taken to undertake the investigation warrant the use of taxpayer money to complete this exercise?

TEU is undecided about this proposal and believes it would need proper costing of both financial and human resources.

2.      Equitable treatment of tertiary education providers

This suite of proposals are of particular concern to TEU, as they seek to further open up the sector to private for-profit providers who unlike public providers do not maintain significant capital investments and resources, who cut costs of delivery by offering much lower rates of pay and working conditions for their staff, and who are able to subsidise their profits using taxpayer money. Furthermore, we do not understand why in our already saturated tertiary education sector, the government would seek to introduce measures that would allow even greater numbers of off-shore providers to ‘set up shop’ here.

Ensuring funding rates are applied equitably to public and private providers

This proposal reinforces the market model the tertiary education sector is currently forced to operate under and which has placed the sector under considerable strain. It will further undermine public institutions that first and foremost are set up to serve the public good and will allow profit-driven companies to gain even more public funds to bolster their business. Such an approach is unlikely to ensure the tertiary education sector can deliver broad-based programmes as part of a nationally agreed plan that meets community, iwi/hapū, business, industry and service provider needs. Instead this proposal would open the door even further to profit-driven private providers whose priority is achieving a financial return for themselves and/or their shareholders.

TEU fails to comprehend how increasing competitiveness in the sector through such measures will contribute to greater productivity and innovation; there is already ample evidence showing the negative impacts of funding instability and ad-hoc responses to tertiary education needs, especially in our ITP sector.

TEU is firmly opposed to this proposal.

Allowing wānanga to apply for ministerial consent to use protected terms

Given that some universities and ITPs have already adopted the terms ‘wānanga’ and ‘whare wānanga’ we see no reason to prevent wānanga from having access to the processes to apply for ministerial consent to use these terms. This is especially because PTEs already have this ability and it would be inequitable to prevent wānanga from doing the same.

TEU supports this proposal.

Aligning refund entitlements for domestic students enrolled in a short programme at a PTE with those of international students

The current provisions indicate an area of inconsistency and inequity in the treatment of students. It is unreasonable to allow PTEs to determine the level of refund for domestic students, but not for international students.

TEU supports this proposal.

3.      Minor and technical amendments

Investing trust assets in a common fund

TEU has no comment on this proposal other than to note that we are confident robust processes would be put in place to protect taxpayers’ money if the proposal is enacted.

Extending the Export Education levy reimbursement provisions to cover private and partnership schools

As TEU has noted previously, our members have a long-held concern about taxpayers’ money being used to fund private for-profit providers. Along with the concerns noted earlier in this submission, we have to question the sense in taxpayer money being used to support businesses that operate in a volatile sphere which is vulnerable to the vagaries of economic downturn, domestic or international crisis and natural disasters. These issues are illustrated regularly when these providers are forced to close, leaving students in some cases unable to complete their study.

Requiring private for-profit providers, whether in the compulsory or tertiary sector, to contribute to the EEL makes good sense, given this instability. It is not clear from the Ministry’s consultation document whether the proposal is also to no longer require public providers to contribute to the levy.

TEU would need to see a clarification of the point above before we were able to support this proposal.

Changing the term ‘private training establishment’

TEU recognises that private provision of tertiary education covers a wide variety of ownership arrangements. We have always made the distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit and would like to see much much clearer definitions of provider-type in the sector. This would assist students and employers in understanding the choices offered for their education and training needs. Therefore, we make the following suggestions:

  1. For-profit providers continue to be referred to as private, but that consideration be given to the term ‘private tertiary education providers’, reflecting their private interests beyond the provision of tertiary education and training.
  2. Not-for-profit providers become referred to as ‘community tertiary education providers’ recognising their special status as community or iwi/hapū providers, with their funds being used solely for the provision of tertiary education and training to their communities.
  3. Alternatively a clear distinction is made by naming providers ‘for-profit or ‘not-for-profit’ providers.

TEU does not support the use of the term ‘independent tertiary establishment’ because this could be construed to imply that universities, ITPs and wānanga as public institutions do not act independently from government or other influences. This could particularly undermine the academic freedom and critic and conscience provisions of the Education Act. It also implies that PTEs are independent of powerful political and economic forces that operate in every society. This is clearly untrue, particularly when we consider the control major financial interests have in private education and training worldwide (for example the Pearsons Group).

Requiring providers to report their compulsory student services fee information

The provision of proper mechanisms to ensure student voices are part of institutional decision-making processes is crucial in the sector. Unfortunately, the Government chose to change student union membership legislation, effectively undermining the ability of students collectively to democratically participate in their institutions and the sector.

The proposal to require providers to include additional information about CSSF decision-making processes and the involvement of students in this in no way addresses the fundamental issue that has arisen from the change from compulsory to voluntary student union membership. However, as a measure to ensure students can participate in this part of institutional decision-making, it has merit.

TEU supports this proposal.

Modernising TEI council operations

These technical changes to modernise TEI council operations address matters which may hinder council effectiveness into the future.

TEU supports these proposals.

Technical funding and reporting changes

TEU supports these proposals to address funding and reporting issues.

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