Former National Education Minister Sir Lockwood Smith needs to prove he is willing to listen to a wide range of views from students and staff as part of the Government’s Education Work Plan, the Tertiary Education Union said today.Best remembered for saddling a generation of students with unmanageable debt through the introduction of interest-bearing student loans, Smith was appointed by current Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ to sit on a new eight-member advisory group. The group has been tasked with providing “coherence” between the ideas submitted through the PrimeMinister’s Education Conversation and the numerous reviews the Government has triggered into most parts of the education system.Smith is a controversial choice given the Government’s commitment to providing three years’ free tertiary education. He also introduced means testing on allowances for students under 25 years, which snatched from thousands of Kiwis the opportunity to have a tertiary education. Smith’s first task in his new role will be to prove he’s willing to listen to a range of perspectives to ensure that any advice given to the Minister is in keeping with the long-term commitment to free, accessible and equitable tertiary education.Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, said:

“We were surprised to see Lockwood Smith’s name appear on a list of people tasked with guiding the Minister through reform of the education sector. It seems sensible to try a cross-party approach to these changes, but we do wonder whether having someone so clearly at odds with the current Government’ approach – and who put in place policies that demonstrably denied education opportunities to thousands of Kiwis - is a wise choice. We hope to be proved wrong, of course, so to help assuage our concerns Lockwood Smith should state clearly that he is willing listen - and that he will do nothing in this new role to undermine the Government’s laudable commitment to free education.”

The advisory group will be led by Judge Andrew Becroft, the Children’s Commissioner, and has as its members: Sir Lockwood Smith, Marian Hobbs, Professor Rawinia Higgins, Dr. Debbie Ryan, Dr. Welby Ings, Etta Bollinger, and Deborah Walker.