Education Minister Chris Hipkins would have been wise to follow his own advice that “anecdotes are not always a good way of making Government policy”, with virtually no extra students taking up tertiary study under his Government’s $2.8 billion fees-free policy, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The Government’s rationale for this hugely expensive policy was that the cost of tertiary education was a barrier to entry for many, based solely on anecdotal evidence.
“The 2018 academic year is now underway and Universities New Zealand has revealed that the policy has had no real effect on enrolments. This is hardly surprising and means the Government is spending $2.8 billion to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist.
“It ignored the fact that tertiary education in New Zealand was already among the most accessible in the world. The money for fees could be borrowed interest-free, and students from low-income families received weekly allowances that weren’t required to be paid back.
“The Government might have realised this was a bad policy had it undertaken a cost-benefit analysis but it was revealed in Select Committee earlier this month that it hadn’t bothered, despite the policy coming with a hefty price tag.
“Now we have a situation where $2.8 billion is being spent on students who would have gone into tertiary education anyway and were prepared to contribute to the cost of their study.
“If the purpose of this massive new investment is to increase participation in tertiary education, then the Government has failed.
“It’s a textbook example of why anecdotes are not always a good way to make Government policy.”
Labour’s ideological opposition to privately delivered services has reared its ugly head with the removal of a clause in the Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill that treats public and private providers of tertiary education equally, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The clause established the principle for providers of tertiary education with similar offerings and outcomes for students, no matter whether they are public or private providers, to receive the same rate of funding.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said publicly that private training establishments often do a better job than the polytechnics.
“So it makes no sense that he would now punish them by removing the clause that ensures they receive equal funding to their public counterparts.
“I can see no reason why the Government has removed this clause from the Bill other than pure ideology.”
Just when everyone thought the Government had run out of things to review it has announced a review of the education system, complete with more taskforces and summits but scant of any real detail, National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye and Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith say.
“It is concerning that this major review will be led by a Minister who has a track record for being big on ideology but bad at process, as demonstrated by the partnership schools and National Standards debacles,” Ms Kaye says.
“It is unfair and disruptive to students, parents and teachers that every time there is a new Government, there are major changes to the education system which is why National wants to work with the Government on these reforms to ensure there is better political consensus.
“We know there are areas that need improvement but we shouldn’t make change for change’s sake. The Government must recognise that there are areas of education that are working very well. For example, Maori and Pasifika achievement has increased significantly in the last decade so we must continue that momentum.
“We have already said we would be keen to work with the Government on areas where we can get cross-party agreement, such as the 30-year plan. However the process matters and it needs to involve collaborative decision-making rather than tick-box consultations with the Opposition and other stakeholders.
“So far there is very little information about what exactly the Government will be reviewing and the devil will be in the detail.”
Mr Goldsmith says it’s all very well for the Government to review vocational education and the need for quality research in the tertiary education sector, but the funding levers available to them will be severely limited.
“Given the Government has already decided to spend all of its $2.8 billion tertiary education investment on grossly untargeted student support, it will be severely short of cash to make any real investment to improve the quality of education.
“Rather than grandly announce more reviews, Mr Hipkins should explain what exactly New Zealanders are getting from the massive investment in tertiary education. Early indications suggest virtually no extra students are enrolling, which must be hard for the institutions and providers to stomach given they are getting no new funding to improve their quality.
“The Government must provide more detail about its review and prove that it’s not simply a smokescreen to distract from the fact it has little cash left to make any real improvements.”
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.”