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July 7, 2008 | by  | in News |
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Auckland set to limit entry; remains to be seen if others follow suit

As the country’s largest university moves to limit entry into all undergraduate courses from 2009, it remains unclear whether other universities are likely to follow suit amidst claims of inadequate government funding.

Despite criticism that the decision will lead to the return of elitism in New Zealand universities, Auckland University’s governing council recently approved limits on previously open-entry courses, including arts, education and first-year law.

While the new limits are largely reflective of this year’s admissions – for example, entry to Auckland University’s Bachelor of Arts qualification will be capped at 2,000 domestic students next year, compared with the 1,679 students admitted in unrestricted conditions at the beginning of this year – opponents of the move say they will most heavily affect prospective university students from low socio-economic backgrounds and already under-represented ethnic groups.

However, Grant Wills, Executive Officer in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor at Auckland University, said that Council members voted unanimously to approve the proposal during the a Council meeting held in April, saying that the University “had no choice.”

Already facing a $2 million shortfall from the government in meeting the cost of projected student numbers next year, Auckland University said the change was necessary to avoid serious financial strife in the case of unexpected growth in student numbers under the government’s new funding scheme.

In 2003, following several years of design work, the Labour-led government introduced the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), a funding scheme that signalled a shift away from student numbers toward quality research.

Victoria University’s Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh explains that universities previously received funding for each of its Equivalent Full-Time Students (EFTS).

Under the new scheme, he says, the government provides a capped amount of spending with 70 per cent of the amount allocated based on student numbers, and the remaining 30 per cent on the basis of negotiations comprised partly of the research produced by the university.

Walsh describes the recent changes as “very significant,” adding that all universities were currently considering how to manage in a capped funding environment.

“We need to think about how we manage student numbers, because if student numbers suddenly increased or suddenly decreased massively, there would be a complete mismatch between our funding and our student volume,” he said.

“That leads us to consider whether there could become a need for restrictions on enrolment, and that is something we are actively reviewing and if this funding regime continues for a number of years, then I think all universities will need to review that.”

Walsh’s comments were echoed by the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (NZVCC) in their annual report for 2007. “[The past year has] demonstrated the difficulty of grafting capped funding on the back of a largely open entry system for students,” chair Roy Sharp wrote.

Tertiary Education Minister Pete Hodgson told Salient that the government did not envisage limited entry to all universities and instead pointed out changes to the provision of funding as announced in the recently released 2008 Budget.

“As you can see… there is increased funding for a projected increase in student numbers,” he said.

National Party’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Hutchison described the Labour government’s system of funding as an “interim measure that is not really satisfactory.”

“[National is] determined to grow our economy and in the longer term, are likely to change [the current system of funding],” he said. However, he added that this was a “long-term projection” that would only come after a National-led government had achieved “sustained, satisfactory” economic growth.

Like Hodgson, Hutchison said that while limited entry had existed for some time in various areas such as medicine, engineering, architecture and law, the National Party did not expect limitations in the general area to be prevalent.

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