TEU National President Michael Gilchrist says the lack of investment in tertiary education has implications for a government aspiring to ensure the strong economic growth is shared more evenly.
The Government has rightly invested in people in its first ‘well-being budget’ – a total of $3.8 billion in new money.
This will help fund more teachers, improved support for young people who are leaving state care or are not in employment, more counselling and addiction specialists, additional places for the homeless, more Pasifika nurses, and a major investment in sexual and family violence services.
Each area is worthy in its own right.
But each investment requires training more staff who can help to improve the well-being of workers, families, and communities.
Sadly the missing link in Labour’s well-being plans is that it is not investing in the people who will do the training and education work that is needed to address everything from more housing to Māori and Pasifika language initiatives.
The government hasn’t thought about how the strained and overworked tertiary education sector is going to cope with the increased demands placed on it by the investment in other parts of education, in housing, health, and social services.
The budget has left tertiary education staff out in the cold when it comes to the vote that delivers money their way. It has provided only a little bit of inflation proofing for a sector that has suffered chronic underfunding for nine years under the last National Government.
My concerns are about how a sector stretched beyond any reasonable extent, in which staff well-being is hitting rock bottom, can help achieve the government’s aspirations.
It’s great to see that there’ll be 1044 more Housing First placements to deal with homelessness, for example. This requires trained workers in both housing and, social support, services for the long-term homeless. Sadly we know that staff teaching addiction and counselling in some of our ITPs have left due to their own stress caused by overwork and lack of recognition of all they do.
It is impressive to see a government investing in making schooling more accessible by trying to get rid of school fees and removing the NCEA examinations fee. And of course there will continue to be more accessibility for students to attend polytechnic, wānanga, or university because of the ongoing commitment to the first year being fees free. But when institutions like Unitec, Weltec, and Whitireia have to make major cuts to staffing and courses that in itself has a marked impact on the accessibility of tertiary education.
And yes we know more teachers are needed and totally agree with the government decision to put additional funding into a range of areas where we train teachers. But we’ve seen University of Auckland and other institutions slicing up teacher education, that reduces our ability to educate more teachers.
For over a year, we’ve been talking to the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, about the financial and human crisis caused by a decade of underfunding in tertiary education. While he agrees there is a problem in the funding approach, there is no relief in sight.
We’ve won some change – such as the end to competitive tendering for L1-4 funding, the decoupling of funding from the educational performance indicators, and last year the first inflation proofing of funding in tertiary education in nine years.
But what the Budget shows us is that our voices aren’t loud enough yet.
We need to keep up our passionate advocacy for strong public investment in tertiary education. The first step is to show just how important tertiary education is to the daily lives of all New Zealanders.