It is concerning that the Government is making it easy for students to abuse its $2.8 billion fees-free tertiary education policy by softening the penalties for those who are caught lying on their statutory declaration, National's Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“At the moment as many as half of the prospective students must sign a statutory declaration to say they have done less than half a fulltime year of tertiary study, and that requires a witness to back up the applicant’s declaration. The penalty for anyone caught lying is up to three years in prison.
“This is by no means a rigorous enough system to ensure that the fees-free policy is not abused, yet instead of toughening up the system, the Government is now making it easier for those few unscrupulous people to not only lie in their applications, but to get away with a lighter penalty if caught.
“The Government now plans to allow future prospective students to simply sign an ordinary declaration which will not require a witness. And if they are caught, the maximum penalty is a $5000 fine.
“It’s not only the maths students who can work out that the fine is less than the value of many university fees.
“It is simply extraordinary that the Government is prepared to put millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money at stake like this.
“The Government has not given any thought to how it will maintain the integrity of the system. It would have been much more sensible if it had taken its time, considered the policy carefully and designed a system that wasn’t open to such rorts.”
With the 2018 academic year drawing near, questions remain around how our science laboratories will maintain a world-class standard given all the Government’s tertiary spending is going into student support with no extra money for the institutions themselves, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith and Science and Innovation spokesperson Parmjeet Parmar say.
“Surely the Government’s priority for tertiary education should be to improve the quality of education, which means investing more in the universities and polytechnics so that they can deliver world-class education that equips young New Zealanders to be globally competitive,” Mr Goldsmith says.
“Funding science laboratories to maintain the highest quality of education and facilities is essential if we are to ensure that budding Kiwi scientists can keep up with the world’s best.”
But Ms Parmar says that with all the new tertiary spending going into student support, we can be sure that there will be little to no money left to invest in maintaining and developing the quality of our science laboratories.
“Setting up a science laboratory with all the right equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the annual running costs of such laboratories. But it’s money well spent if it means that New Zealand can continue to produce world-class scientists.
“It’s difficult to see the point of getting more students into tertiary education if the institutions are not even funded enough to be able to keep up with international standards. We should not be compromising quality of education for volume of enrolments.
“What makes this all harder to stomach is the fact that there will be barely any increase in enrolments so the Government can’t even justify the reasons why there will be no extra money for science laboratories.
“Not only this, but if we cannot maintain the quality of our facilities we can be sure that serious aspiring scientists will be taking their enrolments overseas,” Dr Parmar says.
With unemployment at its lowest in nine years, the job for the new Government must be to ensure that it doesn’t take this progress for granted, National’s Employment spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The new Government inherited a very strong labour market and it’s encouraging to see that unemployment has continued to fall. That’s a credit to the hard work of all our businesses and workers.
“The unemployment rate is now 4.5 per cent and the average full-time wage has increased 3.2 per cent over the last twelve months, now $60,642 per year.
“This means more Kiwis are in jobs and getting ahead, which is a solid platform for New Zealand to keep building on.
“The key now is to ensure that Labour’s incoming changes to employment laws do not put this all at risk.
“Our flexible labour market encourages businesses of all sizes to grow their workforces and with unemployment at a nine-year low, it’s difficult to see why Labour’s reforms are needed at all.
“It’s up to the Government to explain why it is making changes that will undermine the strong results we’ve seen today.”
The Government’s U-turn on their international students policy has given the international education industry a last minute reprieve, but questions remain about why Labour cynically stoked anti-immigrant sentiment during the campaign with promises it never intended to keep, says National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
“Labour was told all along that removing the work rights of international students was unfair and would jeopardise one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners and an industry which provides thousands of jobs, but they jumped on the anti-immigration bandwagon anyway.
“Not providing options for bright graduates to work in New Zealand would have damaged the competitiveness of New Zealand with other top English language study destinations.
“The international education industry is worth $4.5 billion to the New Zealand economy and employs around 30,000 people so it’s good that Labour have finally seen sense and backed down on the policy to remove the work rights of international students.
“But what it shows is that Labour’s campaign was a cynical effort to target migrants and it adds to the evidence that this is a Government that can’t be trusted to do what it says it will.
“It is still unclear whether they intend to follow through on their campaign promise to reduce the number of international students by between 15,000 and 22,000, which represents about a quarter of incoming students.
“With the Government’s immigration policy constantly shifting, there is no way of knowing what their policy actually is. The academic year is upon us and people in the international education industry need certainty so it’s time the Government gave it to them.”
Millions of taxpayers’ dollars are at stake with tertiary providers having to rely on an honesty box system when accepting enrolments from people wanting to take up the Government’s fees-free policy, National’s Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“This poorly designed and rushed policy is producing a bureaucratic nightmare which will lead to plenty of waste.
“About half of the 74,000 applicants, including the many new New Zealanders who have come here after some studies overseas, would simply have to sign a statutory declaration to say they have done less than half a fulltime year of tertiary education or training to qualify for the fees-free policy.
“It will take a university degree in itself to work out what courses taken overseas might tip an applicant over the threshold.
“In the meantime, there’s no simple way of checking the veracity of claims. The Government doesn’t hold any records of tertiary study in New Zealand prior to 2003 and has no way at all of checking international studies.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins said himself that the Government will have to rely on people being honest. And while most people are honest, there will always be those who will take advantage of such yawning gaps in the system.
“It’s simply not good enough that the Government has left this $2.8 billion policy wide open to this kind of abuse.
“With so much investment required to keep our tertiary sector internationally competitive, it’s very frustrating to see such waste and poorly targeted spending.
“The Government rushed the policy through with little thought for the details. It will be on them to clean up the inevitable mess."
The Employment Minister’s lofty ambition to build ‘a kete of tightly woven pastoral care around individuals’ in a bid to stem youth unemployment just goes to show that Labour doesn’t understand where jobs actually come from, National’s employment spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Nothing announced by Willie Jackson today will undo the damage caused by yesterday’s weakening of 90 day trials.
“In just two days Labour has announced two policies that effectively work against each other.
“Removing the 90 trial and the starting out wage means it’s now less likely that employers will take a chance on these young people, particularly those with no qualifications or experience, as a result of this Government’s silly policies.
“Mr Jackson’s flowery rhetoric really says nothing and just goes to show Labour doesn’t understand where jobs really come from. The best way to get young people into work is to have an economy that is creating plenty of jobs.
“Labour has the luxury of inheriting a strong, growing economy thanks to the stewardship of Bill English and the National Government. This new Government seems to take jobs growth for granted.”
“Mr Jackson’s announcement is just a rebranding of part of a comprehensive strategy announced by the National Government last year to reduce the number of at-risk young people not in employment or training in regional New Zealand,” Mr Goldsmith says.
The $50 million initiative was funded out of Budget 2017 and was to be delivered under National’s Regional Growth Programme. It would have seen central and local government partner with Iwi, businesses and support agencies, in order to plan, implement and fund interventions that are unique and tailored to each region.
“It’s deeply ironic that this announcement should come out the day after Labour’s industrial relations policy has been released, which will only slow New Zealand’s high-performing job market,” Mr Goldsmith says.
The Government must explain to New Zealand taxpayers why it is considering scrapping measures that ensure overseas student loan defaulters don’t get away scot free, National Party Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Taxpayers help to fund tertiary study and thousands of Kiwis have been and are working hard to pay back their student loans. Just because someone leaves the country, it doesn’t mean they should be able to leave their debt behind.
“Unfortunately it appears the Government will be removing the tough measures introduced in 2010 by the National-led Government to hold student loan defaulters to account.
“This comes after the Government announced it will ditch benefit sanctions for women who don’t name the fathers of their children, allowing the men to get out of their child support obligations.
“If the Government doesn’t send a clear signal that it’s serious about student loan debt being repaid, it will reverse the hard fought gains we’ve recently made – the measures introduced by the previous Government prompted an additional $419 million in repayments between 2010 and June 2017.
“The Government should be on the side of hardworking people who do the right thing. Not on the side of student loan defaulters.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins revealed that he doesn’t even know some basic facts about his Government’s flagship tertiary policy, after being embarrassingly corrected by his officials in Select Committee today, National Party Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“When asked to confirm that a CE of a company could go off to do their MBA and have the first year paid for by taxpayers, Mr Hipkins said that they would not be eligible under the fees-free policy.
“A few minutes later he was passed a note by officials saying he’d got it wrong and confirmed that the fees-free policy actually does apply to post-graduate study like MBAs.
“It’s hard to know what’s worse – that the Government’s $2.8 billion tertiary policy is so grossly untargeted that taxpayers will be funding wealthy and successful people to get their MBA, or that the Minister in charge of the policy isn’t even across the basic detail.
“Mr Hipkins deliberately inserted himself into the Select Committee briefing which was initially intended to involve officials only – you’d think he would have done his homework.”
Labour must explain why it believes taxpayers should be paying more for people to study golf, homeopathy and skydiving, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The Government was reluctant to provide any detail on its multi-billion fees-free policy and now we know why – today’s announcement has confirmed a return to the bad old Labour days of funding international hip hop study tours and family reunions.
“Under the criteria outlined today, fees-free study options will include a Diploma in Tournament Golf from IGQ Golf College, a Diploma in Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine from the New Zealand College of Chinese Medicine and a Diploma in Commercial Skydiving.
“While it makes sense that golf students ‘have an in-depth understanding of golf theory’ is it really a high priority for new spending?
“This is just bad policy. This is on top of the Government’s own estimates showing hardly any more students will be enrolling because of this policy, when Labour has justified this spending by saying it wants greater participation in tertiary education.
“Most of the 80,000 students that will benefit would have enrolled anyway and were prepared to make some contribution to the cost of their study because they saw the lifetime value in it.
“New Zealand’s tertiary education system is already heavily subsidised and the average student loan is paid off in less than seven years. This policy will just give even more money to people who will earn high incomes and should contribute something to the cost of their education.
“The policy represents a colossal missed opportunity and grossly untargeted spending. Surely it would be better to invest public money into targeting the very small group for whom cost is a barrier?
“And with all the money being sucked into supporting every full-time student in their first year, it leaves nothing to invest in the tertiary institutions themselves so that they can deliver world-class education that equips the next generation of Kiwis to be internationally competitive.
“The tertiary education sector has been left in the dark for months and it’s only now getting the details of this major policy. It gives the sector less than a month to prepare for the changes – and all for a policy that acts as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Labour must explain how it will ensure that people are enrolled in tertiary study for genuine reasons next year and not to exploit the increase in student allowances, National Party Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The $50 a week increase in allowances will no doubt be welcomed by students, but it’s likely also to be welcomed by those who realise they’ll pocket more money each week if they enrol in tertiary study than if they stayed on their benefit,” Mr Goldsmith says.
“Student allowances have previously been pegged to the jobseeker benefit so there wouldn’t be any perverse incentives for people to enrol in tertiary study even if they had no intention of studying.
“But now that’s all changed, and the zero-fees policy will make it worse.
“For example, the student allowance entitlement for single people 24 years and over without children is $212.45 per week; which matches the jobseeker support entitlement for single people 25 years and over without children.
“By increasing student allowances by $50 a week, a person in this scenario will soon receive $262.45 – 23.5 per cent more than if they remained on the jobseeker benefit.
“While all Kiwis would like to see unemployed New Zealanders engaging in genuine study, decoupling student allowances from benefit levels opens the system to abuse.
“With all tertiary courses free from next year, what’s to stop any sensible beneficiary taking advantage and enrolling in study in order to pocket an extra $50 a week?
“It’s like having a new super jobseeker benefit with no strings attached.
“Labour needs to explain to New Zealanders how they will ensure public money will not be squandered on courses for people who have no intention of completing their course. While they’re at it, they should front up with the full details of their tertiary policy.”