New government brings hope for tertiary education

Posted By TEU on Nov 10, 2017 | 3 comments

Jill Jones, president of the TEU branch at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), describes the impact market driven funding has had on institutions like MIT and her hope for the new government.

It was Thursday, 19 October and my evening class at Manukau Institute of Technology was drawing to a close. The students had been working in small groups. As they packed up to leave, I noticed one young woman staring intently at her laptop screen. I stood behind her. Winston Peters came into view. I sat down. A small crowd soon gathered. As Winston spoke, tension heightened. Would he go with Labour?

Driving home as the sun set over the Waitakeres and the Hunuas were bathed in the last light of an early summer day, I thought about what a Labour, New Zealand First and Green Government could mean for students in my Thursday evening class.

These students study at an institution that over the years has played, and continues to play, an important role in our local community. Students and staff have a rightful sense of pride in their institution.

It is a hub of community activities such as those that take place on our Nga Kete Wānanga Marae and Pacifica Centre. We offer services to the local community at reasonable prices such as our hairdressing salon, horticulture sales, restaurant and café where students practice the skills they are learning. A local church uses our theatre on Sundays.

Our role at the heart of the community was threatened earlier in the year when National introduced its Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill.

Over the 21 years that I have worked at Manukau Institute of Technology staff have done their best to provide students with a quality education that equips students not only for the competitive job market but also in becoming useful, participative citizens.

This mission was threatened by a competitive, market driven funding model that, to quote Oscar Wilde, “knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” This model sees education as a mere commodity, to be bought and sold like any other consumer product, with little regard for its inherent value and community function.

In my own faculty this has meant top down management with a focus on completion rates and meeting Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) targets. It has meant a proliferation of middle management positions without a corresponding increase in academic staff. It has also meant that the collective view of the staff of the faculty on important academic matters such as truncated delivery of our courses has been ignored.

In the wider institute it has meant waves of restructuring in which talented, dedicated, professional educators have lost their jobs, sometimes to be replaced by short term contractors with all the problems and difficulties that insecure employment brings.

The incoming government now has a chance to change the market model. The emphasis on Ministerial decision-making needs to change to a model in which education is valued as the public good itself evidently is. This would mean restoring the student and staff voice on councils and a less directive and more consultative approach to staff and the union that represents them. Change requires a stable funding model that allows for planning, accountability and transparency rather than quick, reactive fixes which leave the sector demoralised and rudderless.

I hope, not only for the students in my Thursday evening class, but for all tertiary students in New Zealand, that the change to the market driven model happens, and soon. We have waited for a long time.

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