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May 25, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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The Budget

And we’re not talking about that crap brand of spaghetti your flatmate buys at the supermarket

It’s budget time again! You guessed it, it’s the time of year when the Finance Minister stands up in Parliament and tells everyone what the government is going to spend its money on for the next wee while. It’s broadcast live on TV, and no doubt the news media will this year make countless references to the GF-fucking-C (global financial crisis) in its coverage of Bill English’s first-ever budget.

But what does this Thursday’s budget mean for students? And more importantly, what does it mean for the funding of the tertiary education sector? This week we’ll have a look at what National’s done so far, what it promised before the election, and what the implications of tighter tertiary education funding might be.

Cutty cutting cuts

Earlier this month, English announced in Parliament that he intends to cut tertiary education funding commitments—made by the previous Labour government—in order to fund probation and corrections services.

The Labour government had outlined a spending increase of $591 million over four years to the tertiary education sector in the 2008 Budget.

English told Parliament that “we have to decide whether pre-commitments to adjustments in tertiary institutional funding three or four years away are more important than the growing demand on the probation service and corrections service.”

English justified his decision on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report: “Tertiary education is one area where the previous government has made some very large commitments against future budgets where they haven’t actually allocated the money. And we’ve signaled that we’re not going to be able to keep those commitments and don’t intend to.”

Is it a case of prisoners over students? Or is it the recession biting?

The latest Treasury statements show the government’s books are $7.7 billion in the red. Cuts have to be made somewhere.

Was English’s announcement really unexpected? Tertiary Education Minister Anne Tolley, in a speech at the end of April at the Tertiary Education Summit, said that the government’s imperative “has been to constrain overall government costs.”

“Money is tight. We have to look twice at every dollar we spend, and we have to work smarter to find ways of making what we do have go further,” she said.

“This Government is aware of the significant contribution tertiary education organisations make as we work on making our economy more robust. I would also like to acknowledge that we are aware that there could be significant enrolment pressures on some tertiary education organisations this year,” she said.

National keeps its promise?

It seems the GFC is on everyone’s lips. Prior to the proverbial financial shit hitting the fan big time, National had pledged to make cut backs in the tertiary education sector. It has followed through on some of these already.

National’s tertiary education policy, released in the lead up to the 2008 general election, outlined several clear goals for streamlining the tertiary education sector. It stated that National’s policies would “focus education providers on meeting the demands of students and the economy—not on meeting the bureaucratic demands of government agencies.”

As well as simplifying the tertiary education funding system, National outlined its plans pre-election to “trim bureaucracy” and “streamline” the functions of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). National said that the TEC had “grown into a large and demanding agency that [placed] an excessive compliance burden on education providers.”

National pledged to “cut back the complex Wellington bureaucracy because it has failed spectacularly to ensure value for taxpayers’ investment in tertiary education.”

Two months ago, more than 70 jobs were cut at the TEC as part of the streamlining and cost-cutting process initiated by the government.

Hold up

Whatever the reasoning behind National’s planned funding cutbacks, the tertiary education sector hasn’t responded kindly to English’s announcement. Following the announcement, Tertiary Education Union (TEU) President Dr Tom Ryan said “The message Mr English’s statement sends to students and potential students is that there will be space in prisons but not in polytechnics, wananga and universities.”

Labour’s tertiary education spokesperson Maryan Street said the cuts suggested the National government was “heading completely in the wrong direction”.

“New Zealand’s recovery from the recession relies heavily on the skills of our present and future workforce. Our universities, polytechnics and wananga are standing ready to assist New Zealand to emerge quickly and smoothly out of the recession by enrolling additional students in degree courses and skills training programmes,” she said.

“Universities and polytechnics are all experiencing extra enrolments because of redundancies as workers try to improve their skills. This is the time for extra investment in tertiary institutions, not a time for cuts and insecurity.”

Street said funding cuts in this budget could have negative implications for the tertiary sector, which is already under considerable financial stress.

“Universities are already warning that increased unfunded enrolments will result in capping the number of students in courses or compromising the quality of teaching. We don’t need either of these, especially in a recession,” she said.

What about me? It isn’t fair.

What impact will this year’s budget have on students? New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) co-president Sophia Blair said that the decision not to increase tertiary education is “effectively a cut to tertiary education.” Blair said there are several reasons why students should be concerned about the National government’s plans for the tertiary education sector.

Blair is concerned that a cut to tertiary education funding will impact negatively on the quality of education provided by New Zealand’s tertiary education organisations (TEOs).

She told Salient that a funding cut could see staff being paid less, or that there could be less funding available for services like student support and health.

Universities across the country are already implementing cost-cutting measures to cope with the limited availability of funding. Vic has not been immune. Blair said that no further increase in tertiary funding could result in more cut backs, for example, to tutorial time or the provision of computers for students. Some less-profitable courses could also be in jeopardy.

NZUSA said that it is concerned that the government may in future make changes to the current fee maxima system, which regulates the amount that TEOs can raise their fees each year. The removal of the fee maxima to fill the government’s funding shortfall could result in significant fee increases for students, putting “the burden of debt back on to students,” Blair said.

Limiting entry to courses is another alternative up the sleeves of TEOs to cope with less funding. Blair said that student numbers are on the rise, and if more enrolments go unfunded by the government, “institutions will think about capping enrolments and entry to courses.”

Given the current economic climate, Blair thinks that the government should be “investing in education.”

The Australian government has recently announced a $2.6 billion increase in funding to the tertiary sector, to make places available to those who want to enrol in tertiary education during the recession.

Blair said the government needs to be “investing in education” in the GFC.

Many of those who have been made redundant during the GFC have sought to up-skill by enrolling in tertiary education. Blair thinks that especially during the recession, people should be able to access education as a “fundamental right.”

“The government is talking about upskilling, and making New Zealand more productive, this is what tertiary education delivers. It’s all talk and no action,” she said.

It seems that in dire economic times, government investment in tertiary education seems to be an all-round good idea. But this Thursday, the National government’s Budget will be investing in prisoners, not students.

I don’t get it either.

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Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

Comments (2)

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  1. wildcat says:

    national are assclowns. i cant believe that theyre actually scrapping the increase entirely. already im losing valuable contact time wth my tutors, while my fees continue to rise. im gettng the fuck out of this shitty messed up country as soon as i graduate. lesson to everyone else – do not privatise education. ever. unless you want to end up like new zealand.

  2. Andrew Mendes says:

    Andrew Mendes removed “piano” from his interests.

    “Hey you. How’s it going? Been ages. Powerful article; I enjoyed the read. See you Thursday. -xoxo

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    Andrew Mendes is offline

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