Hau Taki Haere | Tertiary Update Vol 25, No 9

TEU Budget 2021 Special

Three decades of failed tertiary education reform can’t be undone in one budget, but the $407 million of extra funding handed over in last week’s Budget is a start. And it is particularly welcomed by those working in polytechnics and wānanga.

Every public tertiary education institution will get an increase in funding – the new vocational education and training network will get a 13.4% increase in VET funding by 2024, universities 1.2%, and wānanga get 1.2% plus $32.3 million by 2024, with other funds set aside to start to address the inequitable funding of wānanga.  

Why is there real money for the first time in several decades? Because TEU fought for it.

Over the last three decades successive governments have worked to turn tertiary education institutions into businesses, students into customers or ‘stock’ - as they’ve recently been called by some in the sector - and staff into resources that can be overworked, expended, then tossed aside (700 by universities in the last year alone).

The Government’s budget this year was set against the last budget focused on getting Aotearoa through the Covid-19 crisis, but also against the ‘Mother of All Budgets’ delivered by Ruth Richardson in 1991. As noted by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, this was the year that ‘set in motion interest-bearing student loans and that welcomed the passing of the Employment Contracts Act’.

The changes released in Budget 2021 don’t make up for all the lost ground. In the tertiary education sector, year-on-year refusal to put in proper public funding saw our sector $6bn down over the decade from 2009 to 2019. That massive shortfall saw course cuts, job losses, and overwork in the sector.

The funding boost for the new network of vocational education provision is welcomed. Now the extra funding must translate into better working and learning conditions, and an end to cuts driven by financial imperatives that have been stripping provision from communities for decades.

The funding for wānanga is also important, as ongoing institutional and system-wide inequity has seen these Māori-led institutions come in second place to other publicly funded providers since they were established by iwi.

What about universities? They have been left out in the cold. Financially hit by the impact of border closures due to Covid-19, the institutions were told to use reserves to get by. And we were okay with that decision. But why no money in a budget supposedly turning around the ‘Mother of all budgets’ which saw the implementation of policies and funding models that drove-up inequality? Why no money when tertiary education has and will continue to contribute to Aotearoa’s response to Covid-19 (for example, training workers in new jobs and research which improves our social and medical responses), and to the wellbeing of all?

Universities aren’t refocusing on the public good they bring and continue to operate as competitive businesses. Too many senior managers of our institutions are still stuck in a neoliberal approach to tertiary education where students are seen as ‘stock’ and staff as resources which they are burning up with overwork.

A failed funding model and underfunding only exacerbates these issues. When your only choice is to find students who can pay for education to meet the funding shortfall you start relying on international education ‘markets’, further threatening the livelihood of staff, and the education of learners.

When you don’t have adequate funding to provide the full range of courses and services, you just keep cutting until you compromise the wellbeing of your staff in failed attempts to ensure quality education provision. Some university senior managers have done this, but we want them to take a longer view and heed the Minister of Education’s advice, and use some of their reserves.

We’re working together with the Government and employers on the reform of vocational education,  and it’s working. Staff voice is heard, money is available. So why is the same not being done in the university sector?

Let’s get the humanity back into the entire tertiary education sector. What do you say Minister and vice chancellors, can we shake off the legacy of the ‘Mother of all budgets’ and find a better way?

TEU Tumu Whakarae | National President Tina Smith

Also in this update:

• Putting humanity back into tertiary education

• TEU Māori Response to Budget 2021

• Response to Budget 2021 – National Women’s Committee

• A more foundational approach to health

• The people and politics of funding universities

• Avoidance and deferment on the environment

• Wins for some students, poverty for others

Other stories:

Stop job cuts at EIT – Tertiary Education Union - Voxy

Limited relief for universities in New Zealand budget – Times Higher Education

CTU Welcomes progress, but more needed to address the challenges of building back better - CTU

Big win for TEU as funding relief delivered to vocational education, but universities miss out again - TEU