Last week’s Budget delivered increased benefits to the poorest in Aotearoa New Zealand and saw money put into pay equity.

What should this mean for those working and studying in public tertiary education institutions?

For three decades universities, polytechnics, and wānanga were treated by governments as businesses who must bring in fee-paying learners and churn out graduates and commercialisable research. This ‘vision’ stripped wellbeing – in fact it stripped the humanity - out of the sector. It resulted in cuts to services, courses, and jobs.

The result of the failed approach is felt every day on campuses.

But for the second year in a row, tertiary education institutions are getting increases in funding. Yes, the vocational education and training network, and wānanga, are getting more money than universities, but universities are getting a 1.2% increase (and permission from the Government to use their reserves to ride out the major drop in ‘international student revenue’).

TEU members rightly have high expectations of what the additional government funding will deliver.

We need a quantum change to the number of course, programme, and job cuts foisted upon the sector by a failed funding model.

We need to see moves that will improve workloads and wellbeing. The Government has put more into the sector, so unreasonable management expectations that each staff member will be able to do more and more must end.

And we need pay rises.

Why are these three expectations so important?

Job cuts across the tertiary education sector mean that every day staff struggle to meet unreasonable demands caused by underfunding. In the yet to be released Covid-19 survey stress levels are high, with 38% of respondents saying their stress levels are extreme (8-10 on a stress scale), and another 44% saying they are moderately stressed (5-7 on the 10 point scale when a healthy level of stress is about 4).

As well as getting workloads in check – a priority for all institutions - TEU members also have a reasonable expectation, as do all public sector workers, to see pay rises.

There is no pay freeze in the public sector, and there is increased funding for all tertiary education institutions in the budget, and that is why it is reasonable for staff to expect a pay rise.

What next?

With reasonable expectations that workload, staffing, and pay issues can be dealt with, there is a further reasonable set of expectations for the sector managers, government, and TEU to work through.

We need to see funding to improve pay parity and pay equity in tertiary education when TEU makes our pay equity claims. The Government has delivered this in ECE and health care and should now turn to the rest of the public sector.

There are parity issues in the vocational education network to tackle. Working at NorthTec shouldn’t be worth less than working at Weltec. A tutor in Whanganui is not worth less than a tutor in Auckland.

The Government and institutional managers might also like to join TEU in examining the pay gap for Māori and Pasifika staff across tertiary education (yes, the unions heard this concern loud and clear). Systemic racism is everyone’s problem and requires a collective approach.

In short it’s time to put the humans of the tertiary education sector back into the heart of all decision-making.

TEU National Secretary Sandra Grey