Too little, too late.

By Brandon Johnstone (University of Otago) and Dougal McNeil (Victoria University)

The 5% funding increase in Budget 2023 for the tertiary education sector signals that the TEU’s voice has reached the government in some capacity, as an improvement from previous increases of around 2%. This figure is of course still lower than CPI has been for consecutive years, and so we are once again facing a deepening of our sector’s underfunding crisis. Even if CPI forecasts are more accurate than in recent quarters and inflation does dip below 5%, this funding does little to alleviate the under-resourcing that we face. And, most urgently, it provides no solution to the threats of job cuts looming over our sector and the severe difficulties facing five of eight universities across the country.

There is much to be said and done to empower our public research institutions and vocational training institutes, but the bottom line is that to avoid collapse, the sector requires a significant injection of resourcing, and at the very least, public funding that is indexed to CPI rather than being at the whim of the Budget of the day. Anything less than this will see the continued atrophy of the operational capacity of our institutions. There will be no future that does not hold a shrinking of our universities and polytechnic, providing a less educated workforce and lower quality critical research on climate, science, technology, and everything else that a contemporary society demands.

We know from experience that such underfunding leads to job cuts, which invariably lead to an uptick in workloads and other flow-on pressures, even when our employers guarantee this will not be the case. Work needs to be done, and tertiary staff want to see our workplaces remain as high quality halls of teaching and learning. Goodwill has been running out in the last few years, and the sweeping cuts recently announced at the University of Otago indicate a coming slashing of our sector that will clear out any of that remaining goodwill.

It is deeply disappointing to see the 2023 Budget make overt reference to Labour’s broken promise to provide fees-free tertiary education as one rationale for this funding ‘increase.’ A fit-for-purpose public education sector demands appropriate funding, not creative accounting, nor costs being shifted onto students.

We do not want to waste time with restructuring or see our colleagues’ valuable work be tossed aside. We do not want to humour calls to “do less and do it better.” We, the workers of the tertiary education sector, need nothing more than the resourcing to meaningfully provide education and training to tomorrow’s society.