In late 2020 the TEU endorsed a gender equity strategy designed to guide action and progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of all women. The vision outlined in the strategy drives us to take action towards the full active participation of women in our tertiary education institutions and society.

Budget 2021 contributes to action towards ensuring the full and active participation of women across a number of investments. Importantly, through a lifting of weekly income support rates, improved support for whānau, and increased investment in vocational education, the Government has signalled a commitment to laying the foundations for improved wellbeing.

The re-establishment of the Training Incentive Allowance potentially supporting thousands into degree level training and education announced in the budget is a major step forward in facilitating the participation of more women in tertiary education.

TEU Women’s Vice President Jael Reiri commended the reestablishment of allowance for levels 4-7 saying,

‘By reinstating the Training Incentive Allowance for higher levels of study, some of those who are most vulnerable in our society are given more opportunity for growth, development and long-term wellbeing for themselves and their whānau. Sole parents, carers, wāhine Māori and wāhine Pasifika are groups where statistics show disproportionately low educational attainment, lower incomes in the long term, and fewer employment prospects. Their lives have been shaped by the birth of children, the break-down of marriages or relationships, physical or mental health conditions, poor or no housing, or intergenerational trauma. The Training Incentive Allowance provides crucial support at the time it is most needed to help wāhine build a better future for themselves and their whānau’.

Pam Fleming, long time polytechnic tutor and newly appointed Te Pūkenga Union Liaison Officer, was also very hopeful in regard to the difference that the allowance could make to women’s lives:

‘I returned to study in order to keep myself employable. As a mature female, the barriers to promotion and continuing employment become harder to overcome. My study gave me so many more choices in the workplace and provided the impetus for others to follow. Without access to training allowances and fees free programmes many women who need to upskill in order to re-join the workforce are denied a future that includes gainful employment’.

Evaluation of the outcomes of previous Training Incentive Allowance programmes in Aotearoa have demonstrated that those taking up the allowance benefit from increased confidence, heightened well-being and deepened interaction with others. They are more likely than those not taking up the allowance to move into employment and spend less time on benefit programmes .

Individual financial support, however, is just one factor shaping the potential benefits to be gained from tertiary education. Barriers for returning women learners include lack of access to childcare, mismatch between training and follow-on employment opportunities, lack of work experience and difficulty in finding the right jobs after qualification. The increase in funding for the vocational tertiary education sector also announced in the budget has the potential to ensure the right services, right training and expert staff supporting learners through their programmes and when making the transition from education to employment are ready and available.

But more funding is needed to really progress gender equality and the empowerment of women through education. Better funding for university staff to support learners returning to study, financial support for learners under-taking post-graduate study, and expansion of mental health services for those in training and education are glaring omissions from the 2021 Budget. Expansion of the work undertaken by the gender pay taskforce to include addressing pay inequity based on gender and ethnicity in our public tertiary education institutions is also an urgent need.

Adamson, C. (2004, Feb). Phase 2, Evaluation of the training incentive allowance. Wellington: Centre for Social Research and Evaluation/ Te Pokapü Rangahau Arotake Hapori. https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/evaluation/evaluation-training-incentive-allowance-2.pdf