Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Tertiary education’ Category

New Year Hangover brought to you by the letters N.A.T….

Posted by on January 1st, 2013

If you thought that your hangover was starting to fade, National has made New Year’s Day a cracker for short sighted, unfair and just plain dumb policies to come into force.

Prescription Charges Up. Today is the day prescriptions rise from $3 to $5. Might not seem much from the comfort of Tony Ryall’s viewpoint, but a trip to a pharmacy in any low income area will tell you a different story. Many people struggle to pay for their medicine now, let alone with the price increase. Maryan Street has covered it really well here. Unfair, and just plain wrong.

Student Allowances Abolished for Postgrads. I have covered this a few times on Red Alert, but from today no postgraduate student will be eligible for allowances. Shortsighted, and likely to drive many bright hopes overseas. And so unfair to those in the middle of programmes who had no warning of this from National. Like my constituent who simply can’t afford to complete her Clinical Psychology qualification because even using a student loan she is $75 a week down in “income” and can’t afford to look after her daughter on that. Shame.

No more Kyoto. From today the government has abandoned our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in favour of our own “voluntary” commitments. We used to be respected in the world for our work on climate change, but National has systematically undermined that through changes to ETS and now this. Our reputation with small island states will take a major hit. We are now seen as not only not a leader, but not even doing our fair share.

In fairness today also marks another increase in tax on tobacco. Labour supports this, as the international evidence shows price is one of the most successful ways of stopping people smoking. But it has to go along with access to other treatments to help people kick their addiction.

So, its Happy New Year from National. But actually I am feeling really positive today. 2013 will be the year we see New Zealanders come together to find a fairer, more hopeful and compassionate future for our country. That is Labour’s way and that is our goal.

Keep Our Talent

Posted by on December 3rd, 2012

It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every day I get a letter or email from a postgraduate student who is facing the prospect of not being able to finish their study next year because of the National government’s abolition of student allowances for postgraduate study. I have been working with a number to try to find a way for them to keep studying. Many of the letters are copies from people imploring Steven Joyce to change his mind. There seems to be no chance of that. A number are from students who thought they would be allowances next year as they are part way through their programmes. With a few exceptions (those with dependents who have same course code as this year) this is not happening. Steven Joyce’s confused communications about the issue have not helped.

A group of students affected by the cuts have undertaken a nationwide survey of those getting allowances to see the impact. Good on them for this initative. Amanda and the Keep Our Talent team have come up with some important and disturbing conclusions. 40% of those who responded said they were re-considering post-graduate study becuase of the cuts to allowances. 20% were looking at going overseas. As one respondent put it

I will not be able to do my PhD in New Zealand meaning I am less likely to do research on a topic that is relevant to New Zealand. I am sure others will be in a similar situation and this will severely disadvantage New Zealand’s knowledge and expertise.

The situation is particularly dire in long programmes like clinical psychology (which I will write about in another post). This really is one of the most heartless and short-sighted tertiary policies I have seen in 20 years working in this sector.

And worse of all. Steven Joyce won’t even meet the Keep Our Talent group to discuss their survey. Gutless.

Give students back their voice

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

When the Tertiary Education Commission was being set up in 2002, the Minister in charge Steve Maharey was not all that keen for there to be student representation at the Board level. He argued it was not a representative body, and if students were given a seat as of right then that would open up the argument for too many other groups.

With the input of Nandor Tanczos and NZUSA a decision was made that there should be a non-voting student member of the Board. As is the way of these things Simon Power as the then Opposition Spokesperson tried to simultaneously claim credit for, and trash the idea.

And since the TEC has been established there has a been a student representative (in TEC speak a Non Voting Learner Representative). The role has been filled by a range of people and the feedback I have had is that the person has always given useful insights and behaved in a professional way.

So its a real slap in the face that the decision has been made to abolish the position. A double slap because there was no consultation, and this only emerged because NZUSA dragged the information out from the TEC. And it adds to a pattern from this government of taking away student voice (Polytechnic Councils, VSM, proposed reform of Uni Councils).

The TEC are dressing this up as being a reflection of their changed role with the policy function for tertiary education moving to the Ministry of Education. While that does represent a changed role, the tasks they still undertake remain important enough to students to justify the continuation of the position.

There is no better example of this than when the TEC considers at its next Board meeting the applications from Massey and Victoria universities to go beyond the maximum allowable fee increase (4%) to reportedly 8% for some courses. This is exactly the kind of discussion where a student perspective would be helpful, and in fact the right thing to have.

So, it comes down to Steven Joyce. He has the ability to direct the TEC to reinstate the position. Its time he channelled a bit of Simon Power’s enthusiasm for a student voice from a decade ago and did the right thing. Or is this a further nail in the coffin of the democratic traditions of supporting the right for dissenting voices. Your choice Steven.

Does size really matter that much to you Mr Joyce?

Posted by on September 5th, 2012

Steven Joyce has decided to continue his fight with universities over the size of their Councils. Since May of this year he has sent signals that he thinks the Councils are “large and unweildly” and need to be more “entrepreneurial”. Most recently he has added that they are ‘slow to react’, not pursuing commercialisation of research as ‘effectively’ as they could and ‘lagging’ in international education initiatives.

The Universities have finally hit back at the latest accusations noting that we have the fifth highest rate of international students in the world, how they do well in innovation and that there is no evidence that the size of Councils is holding back institutions.

But make no mistake about what is really at stake here. This is about exerting more control over one of the pillars of a free and democratic society. By law, and in practice, universities have autonomy and academic freedom. They have this because they play a vital role in challenging and questioning what happens in our country and world. Their role as independent critic and conscience of society and their responsibility to the wider community will be undermined by greater Ministerial control over the membership of their governing body.

Of course we don’t know exactly what Mr Joyce wants to do because he has not been prepared to release any of the papers that he has received on this issue. I have requested them under the Official Information Act, and not only have I been denied access to the papers, he has even refused to tell me the titles. The Ombudsmen is currently considering that decision.

We can however, take a pretty good guess given what the government did to Polytechnics. They dramatically reduced the size of Councils, removed guaranteed representation from the community, including students and staff, and controlled the appointments of the leadership of the Council. With Polytechnics the Minister now appoints four people, who then in turn appoint another four. And they get to decide who is the Chair of the Council.

Despite not releasing any proposals, the Minister has been communicating with universities about the size of their Councils. I understand he has been trying to see if he can convince them to reduce in size without changing legislation. I don’t fancy his chances.

No one is trying to pretend that Universities have or should have carte blanche to spend taxpayer money as they please, but their independence and responsibility to the community should be sacrosanct.

The place and role of univeristies in New Zealand is delicately balanced in law. The Education Act gives them autonomy and academic freedom, but their strategy and funding are managed through the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) and the investment plans agreed with the TEC. Steven Joyce passed up the opportunity at the start of this year to alter the TES, and so its vision and goals stand. Interestingly it does not emphasise the issues he is now accusing the Councils of failing to focus on sufficiently.

Beyond the point of principle, is this really the most important thing that Steven Joyce can come up with in terms of making univeristies a driving force of our economic and social development? He would be better served to be working alongside the sector on how it is going to provide the quality research and teaching that will drive innovation and academic excellence in the coming decades, and using the powers that he has to work with the sector to deliver the outcomes he wants.

Univeristies are not immune to change or to being given some direction, but launching a coup on the governing bodies of the institutions is a threat to an essential independent check and balance in our democratic infrastructure. It does not respect the role of universities in our society, nor is it in the spirit of the system that governns them. Back off Mr Joyce.

What’s fair Mr Joyce?

Posted by on June 21st, 2012

At the estimates (budget) hearing for Vote Tertiary Education yesterday there were some interesting exchanges. The ones around the lower than budgeted spend on skills training in Canterbury (despite the many offers/bids from training providers) has been well covered in the media.

We also quizzed Mr Joyce on the impact of abolishing student allowance for postrgraduate students and limiting eligibility on long courses. What this, and the written questions that we and the Greens have asked of him, show is the remarkable lack of knowledge about the impact of the policy. The best we can get is an approximation of the number of students who will be affected. No idea of the affect of the impact on particular groups such as women, nor any information on the reasons why people had extensions to the 200 week limit for allowances.

But the thing that really struck me about the answers Steven Joyce gave was when I asked him if it would have been fair to have “grandparented” all students currently enrolled in courses where they entered with the expectation of an allowance been available, so that they could finish the course under those conditions. After an ” I guess you could look at it that way”, we get a nod from Mr Joyce that he thought it was fair enough that those students would now not get an allowance.

Even if the government thinks cutting allowance eligibility is a good idea, I really think they could have looked at grandparenting everyone who is currently enrolled in a course where they would have got them. They are extending eligibility for some people (those with dependents) for a one year period. It would have been fair to have extended that.

A Dear John Letter …..

Posted by on May 25th, 2012

dear john2

Yesterday National delivered a budget that offered zero opportunities for young New Zealanders. Removing the tax credit on part-time work for young people, restricting student allowances and increasing student loan repayments are all examples of how young people are paying for National’s deficit of ideas. Nothing was presented yesterday to offer young people hope for their futures. Rather, what was presented will have even more of our young people scampering for the nearest departure lounge.

Over the last 24 hours my inbox has been running hot with messgaes from young people feeling like they have been abandoned by this Government.

This afternoon I received this email from a constituent of mine. She has also sent it to the Prime Minister. I guess she really means it!

I really don’t have to say anymore – it speaks for itself!


Dear John,
I’m breaking up with you. I can’t handle this anymore. You weren’t my first pick anyway, to be honest. Russel charmed me, Pita and Tariana said nice things, and even Phil was better company. But we ended up together you and I, facing the gloom and doom of an ageing population, a broadening gap between here and the West Island, the ever-looming GFC, and now, the recovery effort here in Christchurch. You were all right to start with; we got on well enough. Your friends aren’t that great. Anne annoyed me when she closed the school down the road from me, Bill is boring, Gerry keeps on eating all the pies, and Banksy’s a liar, plus your perpetual smirk started to wind me up, but mostly, we managed.  

 But this budget John, it’s the breaking point. That’s it. It’s over.

You know how I finish my LLB/BA this year, having worked part time jobs since I was 15, and essentially 7 day weeks for the past 4 and a bit years? You know how I haven’t been eligible for student allowance until very recently when Dad had to stop working? You know how my student loan is currently sitting around 60 K? Yeah, this budget isn’t helping. Cancelling student allowance for postgraduate study? What were you thinking, John?!?

 I don’t know if you know, but I was looking at doing an LLM next year, in some facet of resource management that would actually be useful and productive for the nation.  My husband is currently finishing off his very useful and productive PhD in mechanical engineering, with a little bit to go next year. Our combined student debt is around the 100 K mark. Another year for us without allowance is another 10 K to that debt.  I realise that you used to shuffle huge sums around for Merril Lynch, so 10 K seems like nothing, but can I tell you what this combined debt means for us?

 It means a struggle for a first home. Heck, it might mean no home at all, in current conditions. It means having fewer children, if producing at all. They tell us the right people aren’t having enough offspring. Children are a priority for us, but not if we can’t afford them. Most of all however, this debt means going overseas. Australia beckons, but we were thinking further afield, like Canada. We’re likely to stay there. There’s very little here for us anymore.

 So it comes to this, John. It’s over. You said so much about bridging the gap between here and Australia. Expecting students to take such a hit while expecting them to pay for the ever-increasing superannuation explosion and the resulting problems that that little nutshell is going to have is f*cking stupid, John. Do you expect us to let you back in next election? Forget your sins, expect us to let you ‘change’? Ha, you could only hope. I’ve got a new politician in my life. His name is David. He offers far more than you. Get lost John.

 No longer yours,

A soon to be graduating lawyer and her engineer husband who are leaving NZ – and not looking back.

Answering questions on loans and allowances

Posted by on May 8th, 2012

I have been getting heaps of questions about Mr Joyce’s announcement last week. He does not seem of a mind to get into any details, so this is what I have been able to piece together. Feel free to get in contact with further questions. I have put quite a few in through the written question system where we have not been able to get other answers.

Is future eligibility going to be four years of allowances or 200 weeks?

Steven Joyce caused huge confusion last Thursday by talking about allowances stopping after four years. This was wrong. It is clear that the change he is proposing is to restrict allowances to 200 weeks. This would equate to five years of allowances for most undergraduate courses. This has acted as the default rate of allowances unless you were doing a “long course”. This includes most degrees, postgraduate and longer courses. If you were doing these courses you were eligible for another 50, 100 or more weeks worth of allowances depending on the length of the course. That is now gone.

If you have used up your 200 weeks already does this mean you will be ineligible for future allowances?

I asked Mr Joyce about a case such as this in Parliament today. He said the “final transitional arrangements will be confirmed in the Budget”, but he did go on to acknowledge that the example I gave (a real one) of a student who had used their 200 weeks already and was in the first year of a two year Masters programme would not be eligible for allowances next year.

How many people will be affected by the allowance changes?

Half an answer today as Mr Joyce admitted 4000 to 5000 postgraduate students would no longer be eligible for allowances. He did not give the number of those who would not get allowances because of the changes to parental income thresholds.

Can the government change the terms of student loan contracts that have already been signed to increase the repayment rate to 12% without the agreement of the borrower?

Sadly, yes. Clause 203 of the Student Loan Act says that the Act will override anything that is in a loan contract. The Act contains the repayment rate, but also has a clause 37(3) that says that if the rate is changed by regulation then that rate is deemed to be the rate rather than the one listed in the Act. So, basically the government can do anything it likes to a loan contract as long as it is in the Act. One small caveat is that, through Clause 20, they do have to inform borrowers of any changes to their loan contracts within seven months of the change. Let’s see if they manage that.

There have been a number of questions about limited full time students and how this effects them, which I am chasing up with the Minister. Will come back when I get the results.

As I said the other day I can not believe that Steven Joyce would make these announcements without more information being available. Its simply not fair on students, graduates and their families.

An irresponsible and cynical announcement

Posted by on May 3rd, 2012

Today, Steven Joyce as Tertiary Education Minister announced changes to the student loan and allowances scheme. When I say announced, I mean that he held a media conference at which he told the assembled reporters about the changes. He did not produce any paper, apparently could not offer much in the way of figures to back up his announcement and gave some vague answers. He has finally late this evening released his notes which shed only a little light on proceedings.

This is irresponsible and cynical. Pre-budget announcements are nothing new, I know that, but if you are going to do do them, how about actually giving details about what you are going to do? Student support is one of those areas where the details matter to individual students and their families. Many students live financially fragile lives, and little changes mean a lot. For families trying to support their children and plan their future, announcements like this have significance. Judging by the questions I am getting on email and on Twitter people are confused, and it is no wonder.

The reason it is cynical is that this is about getting the bad news away before the Budget so that on the day Mr Joyce can show how he is putting some more money into research and certain courses. The robbing Peter part of the equation out of the way, it will be time to pay Paul on Budget Day.

As to the substance of the announcement, they are giving all graduates with loans a pay cut by increasing the repayment rate and they are cutting access to allowances, including limiting eligibility to four years. This is significant. This means no allowances for people in later years of studying medicine, engineering, architecture, veterinary science or for post graduate study or double degrees. In short the very things the government says it wants.

There are still loads of questions unanswered about the detail of the announcement (such as what happens to those in the middle of longer degrees, do four years of allowances at any time in the past make you ineligible from next year?) but the overall message is clear; this government simply sees tertiary education more as a cost to be cut than an investment in our collective future.

Slow Jam with the President

Posted by on April 26th, 2012

Barack Obama and Jimmy Fallon in fine form last night in this sketch from Jimmy’s Late Night show. Fallon has a regular ‘slow jam’ segment, and has Obama as his special guest on this one. Very funny, and great work from the President. The issue here is a proposal to increase the rate of interest on student loans, which the President is opposing. As he says

Now is not the time to make school more expensive for our young people

Let’s hope Steven Joyce is listening to that come Budget time.

The Undergraduate Brain Drain?

Posted by on April 15th, 2012

Interesting article today quoting Sir Peter Gluckman on a possible new element to the brain drain; students undertaking their undergraduate studies overseas.

In the absence of any real data on this its hard to say if there has been a spike in students going overseas to undertake undergraduate studies. Anecdotally there has been an increased presence of Australian universities holding recruitment sessions at some schools. Just how many students are taking them up is a piece of information worth knowing, and I welcome Sir Peter looking into it.

One thing is for sure and that is that Australian universities are now operating in an environment where targeting New Zealand students makes sense. They have had a number of funding increases in recent budgets and are operating in an uncapped environment when it comes to enrolments. Add to that the ease with which New Zealand students can enrol and be treated as domestic students in terms of fees, and the incentives are there on both sides.

All of which makes Steven Joyce’s comments in this story just bizzare. He says

Joyce said the election promise had not been about stopping the brain drain, but increasing the success of the New Zealand economy so more people felt they could be successful here.

”It doesn’t apply to undergraduates, it applies to people earning high incomes in New Zealand,” he said.

First off it is simply untrue to say National did not campaign on stopping the brain drain. Take a look at the billboards Mr Joyce, that is exactly what they promised. And the opposite has occured.

Moreover his laissez faire attitude to the departure of undergraduate students is bizarre. They are the future earners of high incomes! We have a hard enough time keeping our best and brightest here without waving them goodbye at 18.

Regardless of the accuracy of the claim of undergraduate flight, we do need to take another look at how we invest in the tertiary sector to ensure that we are getting the best outcomes for students and for New Zealand as a whole. There does need to be a focus on both ensuring equity of access and developing world class institutions. More from me on that soon. But in short we also need to see the sector as a key part of our economic growth agenda, not some drain on the country;s finances.

When I listen to Steven Joyce I sometimes feel that the whole tertiary education thing is a bit of nuisance to him, (eg his moves to “dampen demand” and the budgeted decline in tertiary funding) rather than the opportunity for economic and social progress that it should be.

What’s going to happen to student loans/allowances?

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Earlier in the year the Prime Minister said the government was going to rein in the student loan scheme “big time”. He refused to say what this specifically meant, but it is clear the government has plans. Having decided that they can’t do what they really want to do in terms of getting rid of the interest free part of the scheme they have made a number of changes to limit eligibility, such as stopping those 55 and over borrowing for the living costs portion of the loan.

But there is more to come. In answer to a written question I put in about reports that the Minister of Tertiary Education had received about changes to student support, came this answer from Steven Joyce.

I have received many reports and briefings regarding future student support arrangements since 1 August 2011, if the Member would care to be more specific I will endeavor to provide a response. However, the Member should note that many of these will relate to future Budget decisions and therefore will not be released prior to Budget day.

So students can expect changes to be announced on Budget Day. Rumours abound as to what the changes will be. I have heard talk of major changes around allowances that would effectively wipe them out in favour of loans. This would be hugely controversial and create major equity issues. Moreover it would have the effect of massively increasing the student loan balance which would seem to be the opposite of the government’s policy objective.

More likely is an implementation of National’s election manifesto statement about student loans that

Ensure students who borrow from the scheme are working towards qualifications that can attract an income that allows them to pay back the loan.

This relates to the already announced plans to publish the salaries of people with particular qualifications. It raises huge concerns. What courses will not be eligible for student loans? What time scale will be used to identify the income? Will other factors will be taken into account to assess the value of a course?

I am all for ensuring that tertiary education plays a major part in providing the skilled workforce that we need. I also think we need to keep a careful eye on the quality of courses, but that is not the same as saying students can only borrow for courses that attract a particular income. The salaries earned by graduates are not the be all and end all of the value of tertiary education. Bob Jones famously once said he would rather employ an arts graduate than a commerce graduate because they had been taught to think.

We need to have a wider view of the value of tertiary educaiton, firstly for the individuals concerned and what they learn, but also for society as a whole of having people who have undertaken a range of courses. We want musicians, designers, artists or whatever it might be that the Minister considers is not earning enough, don’t we? They might not have huge financial benefit, but they are important in a civilised society.

Budget Day could be very interesting, and possibly disturbing ifor students and future students.

English defends community education

Posted by on November 1st, 2011

The government cut funding to Adult Community Education in 2009. The number of schools being funded fell from 212 to just 23. More than 150,000 New Zealanders who once attended night school now don’t have the opportunity. Great swathes of NZ no longer have schools offering courses as they once did.

The enormous value of community education was acknowledged by Bill English in 2005, while Education Spokesperson. He warned of the bureaucrats who wanted to take it away.

Here’s the first few lines and last paragraph of a speech he gave :

Community education has a long and honourable history. I recall my mother going off to night time classes in furniture restoration, a quiet space in the busy life of a household of 12 children. In a painting class I visited a few years ago a man told about how the tutor had changed his life by challenging him, teaching him and making him finish the picture. He described how he had become part of a warm community. There are thousands of stories about how human needs are met by the collective and aspirational activity of learning.

A great and warm story, experiences that many of us have also discovered … until a year or two ago that is. Now those sorts of tales are thin on the ground. All for saving $13.5 million.

Here’s how he finishes:

I support community based less formal learning opportunities. I want to work with you to retain the funding arrangement that allowed community learning to be so successful for so long, and develop new mechanisms with the same qualities if your needs can be better met. In the end community learning should be driven by the community. It is not enough just to engage your organisations in consultation. You need the authority to make the decisions that make a difference to the community and the people you know. I want to make sure you have it.

He didn’t stop Tolley putting in the boot, despite being Finance Minister. Pity he didn’t reflect on those warm memories then.

Restoring the Refugee Study Grant

Posted by on October 15th, 2011

In Labour’s tertiary education policy announced by David Shearer earlier this week was a small, but very important commitment from Labour. If elected to government we will restore the Refugee Study Grant. This grant was canned by the National Government in the 2009 Budget with effect from this year. When I was Tertiary Education Spokesperson for a while I met several people who had greatly benefited from the grant, and I am so pleased that we have committed to restoring it.

What the grant has provided is support for refugees mainly for bridging courses or other courses to meet pre-requisites. While as permanent residents refugees can access student loans, many need support to get to the level to be able to undertake tertiary study. Not having the support can mean that opportunities are missed and refugees dont get the kick start that can allow them to achieve their potential.

Mohammed Amri is one example. He was one of the Tampa boat boys. A bright guy, but with little experience of English or learning in a New Zealand environment, who took language, reading and writing skill courses that got him his start on the way to a degree. Another example is a young woman I met, who’s story is included in the publication by Changemakers Refugee Forum as part of their campaign to see refugees recognised as an equity group. She was 19 and still at school here trying to catch up with her peers. She did well, but was not ready to do tertiary study. She was losing motivation for school, doing long hours working at a supermarket, acting as an interpreter for her family, and wanted to get on with her life. She accessed the refugee study grant, got the support to lift her literacy skills, understand the pecularities of New Zealand langauge, and gain entry to a degree at Victoria University. She’s doing really well.

All of this came from a fund that used about $1.3 million a year. In the grand scheme of the Budget, not that much. But it was a lower priority for National in that particular Budget than extra funding for private schools. I am really proud that Labour is saying we will give some extra support to people who have had to flee their homes, who have endured hardship, so that they may achieve their potential, have a fair go at owning their future, and fully contribute to our society. Its the right thing to do.

A note to those who supported VSM

Posted by on October 13th, 2011

Massey Unniversity has responded to the Voluntary Student Membership Act by increasing its fees next year by an amount about equivalent to that paid by students to their Student Associations.

Just to note:
– it seems like the fees are compulsory
– the government will have a big say on what the increase can be used for – not even the university
– it looks like students through their association may be able to negotiate with the university about what services are kept – but no guarantees
– it’s likely to be the model that will spread across NZ – I was in Waikato University yesterday and they are looking at something similar

So all those who backed VSM will still pay the same, but you won’t have any real say about how your money is spent – even less if you decide not to belong to the student association. Taxation without representation it’s called.

And now you don’t even get the choice of a referendum.
What was wrong with an opt-out clause and accountability around association spending as we suggested?

Well done. Everyone loses.

Labour’s Tertiary policy announced

Posted by on October 10th, 2011

We have just put out Labour’s tertiary policy. It follows on the big effort that we’ve made to lift skills in our workforce. No need to remind people that times are tough and it’s tough getting any new money. But I think we’ve got a pretty solid mix here that will make a difference.

The key aim is produce the best graduates we can – and keep them in NZ – to help us grow a smart, high-value economy.

The policy has some specifics targetting some of our smartest. It puts back the post-doctoral scholarships for scientists who finished their PhDs that was canned last year. This is critical for not only keeping our best here and giving them time to consolidate their studies, but bringing some of our best back. After all, we’ve already invested massively in these people.

We’ve also put additional funding aside for funding our very best where they are world beating. The ‘brilliant scientist’ concept is simple – give sufficient funding to our best scientists and academics to employ the staff they want, buy equipment they need and then let them get on with it. Smart people attract others – from around the world. Backing our best with resources will grow expertise in core areas where our talent is top shelf. And we DO have some fantastic talent. Those researchers will receive funds personally and are free to choose the NZ institution – or business – where they want to set up.

Other parts of the policy: we must maintain and raise the levels of our universities. Recent results show we are slipping in the world rankings and there’s little doubt that funding is a key part. We run universities that are some of the most efficient in the world, where an extra dollar can really make a difference. Our policy maintains our level by inflation proofing our universities and sets our commitment to increase it.

We need to maintain the affordability of our tertiary institutions so all NZers that reach the standard can access a high quality tertiary education, no matter what background they come from. There’s aspects in the policy here for that too, fixing tuition increases at 4% and restoring $2 million to the Training Incentive Allowance to give a lift to those who want to get a tertiary education – solo mums for example – to get some support. Remember this is the one that helped Paula Bennett before this government axed it.

And we’ve put back the money for adult and community education. Cutting $13.5 million and collapsing it was a travesty. More than 150,000 people no longer access night schools who once did. This is a no-brainer for people wanting to get back into learning.

National MP Opposes VSM Bill

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

Here is a video taken of Michael Woodhouse at a public forum at Otago University in July. He quite clearly states that he is opposed to the Bill in its current form (ie the form that it is in right now). Today, in the Third Reading Michael Woodhouse and other National MPs will vote to pass the Bill into law.

Michael also goes on to assure people that the Bill in its current form won’t pass into law this year. I have heard from other students that is the same commitment they got from other National MPs. This was misleading students and the National MPs should be ashamed of themselves. They heard the evidence at the Select Committee, and they know that tertiary institutions do not want the Bill, the vast majority of other submitters do not want the Bill, but they are still supporting the ideological crusade of their crumbling coalition partner.

Michael also suggests that Labour should promote the ‘opt out’ compromise solution. We did. It was rejected by ACT and National.

So the question for Michael Woodhouse (and other National MPs) is, why will he vote to pass a Bill today that he does not support and that he knows will destroy student services and advocacy?

Students will lose, but still pay

Posted by on September 26th, 2011

ACT and National will push voluntary student association bill through parliament this week on the last Members Day. We can expect a good deal of student opposition around the country. Good for them.

Next year, students won’t pay any fees to student associations. That’s inevitable, would you pay your council rates if they were voluntary? Wherever student associations have become voluntary they effectively collapsed.

What happens next?

Well, the university, polytech or institution will step in, charge students a levy, and continue some of the services through subcontracting companies or students to do it for them. It’s already been gazetted (NZ Gazette No. 138). Institutions can charge students for: advocacy and legal advice, careers advice and guidance, counselling services, employment information, financial support and advice, health servieces, childcare facilities, sports and recreation facilities.

In other words, all the stuff that supports students and makes these institutions of learning vital, interesting places.

So, voluntary student association membership will result in … money taken off students compulsorily, leaving them with no power to determine what services are kept. Taxation without representation is one way it can be represented.

The National-Act spin that student associations are the last bastions of compulsory unionism is bollocks … it’s idealogy pure and simple.

We could’ve had a good, enduring Bill with an opt out clause and some rules around accountability of student association spending. I’d spoken a number of times with Heather Roy about some possibilities. She was willing to compromise when she her Bill looked in doubt but held the hard line when she thought she’d get it through.

Too bad, fortunately it won’t last long.

New Zealand’s first tertiary high school

Posted by on June 29th, 2011

Met with Stuart Middleton at the Manukau Institute of Technology today, the driver behind NZ’s first tertiary high school where students are simultaneously enrolled at school and MIT. The idea is that they transition from school, where most are about to leave anyway, and pick up a course at MIT. It’s a model that deserves copying.

Mainly because students can see some outcome of their learning – and therefore get really passionate about it – the Tertiary High boasts impressive success. Their latest results for NCEA Level 1 for Maori and Pasifika are below, and remember this is from a group that otherwise were on the path to dropping out of school.


Nationally – 60.8% at MIT – 80%


Nationally – 54% at MIT – 71%

Pretty good results. We have a 20% drop out rate in NZ – 20% of 16 year olds are no longer at school. The big factor, according to Stuart, seems to be that once kids drop out it’s really difficult to pick them up again. Instead if they move to some other learning, it doesn’t matter which so much, but one that gives a qualification, the chances are incredibly high that they go on to another qualification.

Not rocket science, perhaps, but a scheme that’s based on principles worth instituting into policy.

When being a union member makes a difference

Posted by on May 25th, 2011

The Guardian has an instructive article on the rights of abused workers in the States. It is based on the current Strauss-Kahn case and shows the danger of unfair dismissal laws of the type Kate Wilkinson and John Key aspire to.

One very important fact has been largely absent from the coverage of the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, until latterly, leading candidate to be the next president of France. The hotel housekeeper whom he allegedly assaulted was represented by a union.

The reason that this is an important part of the story is that it is likely that Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim might not have felt confident enough to pursue the issue with either her supervisors or law enforcement agencies, if she had not been protected by a union contract. The vast majority of hotel workers in the United States, like most workers in the private sector, do not enjoy this protection.

The Quake and Politics

Posted by on March 2nd, 2011

Just over a week on my thoughts constantly turn to the people of Christchurch. I am thinking particularly of those who have lost loved ones. For many this is a time of unbearable heartache as they wait for news, any news, of their nearest and dearest, knowing all the while their likely fate. I have been close to two of these situations in the last week and it is truly testing the friends and families to endure the hurt, frustration and uncertainty. I also think of those who are homeless, or in wrecked homes or in streets, especially those in the eastern suburbs still without power, water and sewerage.

The people of Christchurch and their well-being is  the chief concern of all in politics right now, whatever party we are from. In this past week we have all tried to pull together, as communities all around New Zealand have, to do our best for them. Government Ministers are working incredibly hard, as are local MPs of all parties and I want to acknowledge them all for that.

Part of the passing days is that discussion inevitably turn to matters that are more political. We had our first taste of that with the story about Bill English refusing to rule out cuts to Working for Families and changes to the interest free student loan scheme. John Key followed up today saying there was an ‘opportunity’ to look again at these policies. Phil Goff has responded saying that cutting incomes for families and increasing costs for students and graduates like this is not the correct response, and that there are other choices the government can make.

The mere fact of this debate has caused anguish for some. I accept that this is a sensitive area. As I said there are many people still waiting to learn the fate of their family members, and thousands of people doing it really tough every day. But the discussion about the future of Christchurch and what will be done is now in the public arena as likely costs are released by the government, and questions asked by the media and others. It does not, and should not stop the focus on rescue, recovery and ensuring the immediate health and safety of residents.

In fact it is important for our democracy that the debate is held. These are important decisions about the future of our whole country, especially Christchurch, but for all of us in the end. The choices that are made, and the priorities accorded to future spending need to be the subject of debate. There is need to hold the government to account, and to oppose and propose where necessary. This is not disrespectful to the people of Christchurch, it is in fact to support  them and take further steps to recovery.

We must strive to work together for the people of Christchurch. We must be sensitive to an emotionally charged situation. But there will be debate and disagreement. That is a healthy part of our democracy. That is part of politics. And politics need not be a dirty word. It should be the mechanism by which we go about about finding the best outcome for the people and the future of Christchurch and the rest of our great country.