Tertiary Update Budget Special 2019.

In this special Tertiary Update we examine what Budget 2019 means for those working and studying in tertiary education; and at some of the key issues affecting members’ lives.

For the past 10 years Budget days have failed to deliver for the tertiary education sector, have failed to address the needs of students, communities, and employers.

While yesterday’s budget was a quantum step up from the nine years of austerity and competitive funding imposed by the National Party, there was still no significant new investment for the tertiary education sector.

What Labour’s Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, provided was a 1.8% increase in 2020 tuition subsidies and some small changes in a range of other funding lines. These changes will help to ensure our institutions can keep up with the rising costs of running courses and doing research.

But the Budget commitments will not address the conditions caused by chronic underfunding of the tertiary education sector. Underfunding which has created the pressures on staff laid out clearly in the State of the Public Tertiary Education Sector Report and in Project White-streaming; which was noted by staff, students, and our employers in the state of sector forums co-hosted by TEU in 2018;  have led to the Review of Vocational Education.

The Tertiary Education Union has never expected this coalition government to fill the $6 billion hole in funding left by National’s Steven Joyce, but we want some planning on how things will change from here.

This really is what all workers are expecting as was reflected in CTU President Richard Wagstaff’s post budget press release: “After years of neglect we’ve seen the largest new spending in over a decade of $3.8 billion. But the needs of New Zealanders are significant and it will take even more than a single Budget to ensuring wellbeing."

The ongoing constrained approach to tertiary education funding is discussed by TEU President Michael Gilchrist later in this special edition of Tertiary Update. He lays out the reasons those outside our sector should worry about “Vote Tertiary Education” as much as “Vote Health” or “Vote Education”.

It’s a start towards investing in well-being

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. What’s the well-being budget all about?
  2. Investing in wellbeing means investing in tertiary education
  3. ‘Much to celebrate, though some minorities left out in the cold’
  4. Family Violence and Sexual Violence Package, Wellbeing Budget 2019
  5. Health means more than good buildings, it means good homes
  6. You can’t be aspirational if you begin with a deficit approach
  7. Rethink and put the earth at the centre of a wellbeing budget
  8. Kindness doesn’t replace food

Not all sectors of the social and human services are in the same position as tertiary education after yesterday’s Budget.

As a union, community, and family members, and as passionate advocates of equity there are a range of funding boosts that we must acknowledge and applaud.

TEU’s Te Koeke Tiriti sets out clearly that we as a union will support and take actions which improve the well-being of the most vulnerable in our institutions, communities, and nation. In this respect we support Labour’s increased funding for mental health, transitions of youth from state care, the indexing of benefits to wage growth, funding for employment initiatives for NEETS and disabled persons, and investment in housing for the homeless. And there is no doubt the $1.1billion to improving child wellbeing is essential.

So what was the government’s objective in the well-being budget?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s budget speech set out the following priorities:

  • Taking mental health seriously;
  • Breaking the cycle on child poverty and domestic violence;
  • Supporting Māori and Pasifika aspirations;
  • Investing in crucial national infrastructure, like building new hospitals and schools; while
  • Managing the books responsibly; and
  • Addressing long-term economic challenges such as building a sustainable economy and preparing for the jobs of the future.

And in this special edition of Tertiary Update we will try to understand the impact of each for those working and studying in tertiary education.

Mental health services

There has been a significant boost in mental health funding – a boost welcomed by the NZ Union of Students’ Associations.

“We are happy to see a $1.9 billion boost to mental health services and the removal of voluntary donations for schools with deciles 1-7. Both great steps towards a barrier free education”

But NZUSA notes that “Tertiary students have been let down with this budget as the Government did not commit to restoring the Postgraduate Student Allowance as it promised in the elections. Nor have they removed the age discrimination on loans and allowances.”

Similarly in this edition, Professor Anne Marie Jutel, writes positively about the boost to mental health funding while expressing concern that underlying social conditions which negatively impact on health have not been adequately tackled in Budget 2019.

Sexual and family violence

One of the most significant areas of new spend in the 2019 Budget was the investment in sexual and domestic violence services which are examined by Professor Jan Jordan. Jordan notes that there is a powerful message sent in the government investing the largest amount ever set aside for the sexual and domestic violence sectors – perhaps one of the areas of the budget to be most celebrated.

TEU’s Women’s Officer Suzanne McNabb says sexual and family violence is a major obstacle to the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ human rights. And agrees with Jordan that the investment made in the wellbeing budget is to be welcomed.

“The move takes New Zealand another step closer in meeting its commitment to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality.”

Māori and Pasifika aspirations

Lee Cooper, TEU’s Te Pou Tuarā, looks at what the Budget provides for Māori noting that sadly in tertiary education there is little ‘aspiration’ in the budget and too much focused on deficit thinking. Cooper’s hope is that the direct conversations between TEU members and the Ministry of Education will see a different picture when the Tertiary Education Strategy is released and resourced.

Managing the books

The overall economic direction of New Zealand is strong.

There is continuing growth in the economy and predictions of strong wage growth – 3.2% to June 2020 is the prediction. This wage growth is something we must expect our tertiary education employers to at least match.

So why does this economic strength not flow into all areas of budget spending?

It’s because Labour is delivering on its priority to ‘manage the books responsibly’ and living within the rules set by previous governments with regard to fiscal and budget responsibility. Perhaps that’s the issue for those working on the front-line of social and human services.

As TEU National Secretary Sharn Riggs noted yesterday: “The government is staying very safely inside the current fiscal responsibility targets. It has money in the bank for a rainy day. For many students and staff in the tertiary education sector the rain is pouring through the rooves of their institutions because of chronic long-term underfunding.”

Riggs says we need the Minister of Education to set in place a plan to address the gap between the cost of running the sector and the funding put in.

Riggs’ concerns about the overall level of government spend are echoed in the Council of Trade Union’s bulletin on the Budget. “There are many good initiatives announced, which will make a difference to people’s lives – but funding in many cases is still far from adequate.”

The bulletin goes on to note “While this is essentially a conservative budget there are some small but welcome signs of the government making use of what flexibility there is in its Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR). That does not change our conclusion though that the BRR is inconsistent with its wellbeing approach.”

The answer lies with the public, with us as workers, family and community members, and as taxpayers. We must keep telling politicians from all parts of the political spectrum that we value our public and social services – including tertiary education – and want the government to be bold in addressing well-being.

Building a sustainable economy

The final opinion in this special edition is from environmentalist Mike Joy, whose critical eye is turned to the government’s aspiration of building a sustainable economy.

Looking to green technologies and just transitions into green industries is essential for all workers. As Sharan Burrow General Secretary of the International Trade Union Congress told delegates at TEU’s annual conference earlier this month “there are no jobs on a dead planet.”

Other News

Budget2019 - A hopeful start - NZCCSS

PSA welcomes Wellbeing Budget but more still to do - PSA

Wellbeing budget fails to deliver for beneficiaries - AAAP