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‘We need a new funding model yesterday,’ says education union

Image: New Zealand Tertiary Education Union [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Minister urged to provide immediate support and reforms to save New Zealand’s campuses and courses

New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Union has said that its appeals to the government for help have been ignored.

“We sound like a stuck record. Investing in tertiary education is about changing lives. But our voices seem to be fading away on the wind,” said union secretary Sandra Grey (pictured, right) in a statement on 10 March that accompanied the union’s latest briefing to education minister Chris Hipkins.

Grey said that tertiary education had lost around 700 jobs since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and that the government was not moving fast enough to help.

“Minister Hipkins has the right idea—education is a public good that should support individuals, whānau [family], iwi [communities], hapū [subcommunities], employers and communities to carve better futures. Sadly, he does not see the urgency of the situation,” Grey said. “We need stopgap measures to prevent our institutional leaders from slashing the sector to pieces before we get a new funding model. And we need a new funding model yesterday.”

She continued: “Yes, the government is reviewing the funding model. But guess what? While they argue about the best formula to use, another campus is under threat of closure.” The union said that the closure of some regional campuses and the cutting of courses meant that the door was being “slammed shut in the faces of learners”.

Earlier this month, Radio New Zealand reported that around 300 staff were leaving the University of Auckland voluntarily, as well as about 100 at Victoria University of Wellington. The TEU called the departure packages at those and other universities “a waste of public money”.

“The decimation of tertiary education due to a lack of investment will have devastating impacts on communities across Aotearoa [New Zealand].”

In the briefing to the minister, Grey and TEU president Tina Smith (pictured, left) wrote: “The quality of advice and action during 2020, and which continues today, is only possible because of the nation’s strong tertiary education system. If we are to ‘build back better’, we therefore must ensure quality vocational and higher education is adequately resourced.”

“During this next term of government, Labour must further address over two decades of commercialisation, competition and the severe underfunding of the tertiary education sector.”

The briefing calls for immediate action “to ensure funding meets the actual cost” of providing tertiary education; action to improve academic freedom; and a requirement for institutions to report annually on “equity gaps” around issues of race and other sources of inequality.