The Government’s flagship education policy fees-free has turned out to be an even bigger flop than what Finance Minister Grant Robertson recently admitted to, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Shane Reti says.
“A briefing from Education Minister Chris Hipkins says ‘the impact of the fees-free policy on students’ study choices is expected to be limited’ showing the Minister knew last year the policy would have little impact on students.
“This is a clear admission from the Minister that fees-free is a waste of money.
“But while the policy has had little impact on students, it’s left huge administrative costs to Universities, with collective costs of $600,000 to administer the policy, only to have fewer enrolments. The Ministry of Education and Tertiary Education Commission paid a staggering $8 million implementing the policy.
“The Prime Minister and Mr Hipkins have attempted to justify the lower enrolments by saying the number was already falling. But in the same briefing where the Minister admits fees-free is a failure, it notes apprentice numbers are actually up but they weren’t participating in fees-free.
“The briefing also notes there is no record of whether students who took up fees-free completed or failed their courses.
“This is a $2.8 billion policy, to not know how many students passed their studies not only makes a mockery of fees-free, but it shows how willing this Government is to throw money around without doing the background work to make it a policy that makes meaningful, targeted change.
“Labour spent nine years in Opposition, it had time to ensure it got the detail right with this policy. Instead fees-free was used as big election bribe and as a result has been a waste of money. The Government’s poor spending priorities has resulted in teachers gearing up for the largest ever industrial action.
“The Minister’s statement there’s no more money for teachers is a tough pill to swallow when he’s also confirmed his billion dollar policy for students has had little impact. He needs to put an end to speculation on the year two and three rollouts.”
National MPs Shane Reti and Matt King are supporting a petition calling for an inquiry into the Northland Meningitis outbreak after presenting to the Health Select Committee this morning.
“Today we presented evidence of delays and deception across multiple parts of the Ministry of Health, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and PHARMAC in response to the outbreak,” Dr Shane Reti says.
“The Meningitis Foundation tag line is ‘every second counts’, and we challenged the Health Select Committee whether every second had counted in the Northland outbreak,” Dr Reti says.
“We presented evidence Northland DHB had frequently lobbied Health Minister David Clark for a vaccination program, including by teleconference, a claim the Minister has denied in writing. The Minister needs to come clean. He ignored the pleas of Northland DHB,” Mr King says.
“Northlanders are amongst the highest risk, lowest socio economic population group in our country. Our DHB asked for help early on and didn’t get it. That is unacceptable.
“A segment of our at-risk youths were ineligible for the Government funded vaccination campaign. The Government ignored expert advice that recommended all under 20s should be vaccinated, and a child that was not covered passed away,” Mr King says
“We have evidence of a delay of 22 days from the day Meningitis qualified as an outbreak in Northland to the day it was officially declared, a delay that put lives at risk and makes a mockery of the every second counts in Meningitis rule,” Dr Reti says.
“After the outbreak was declared it then took a further 14 days before PHARMAC ordered the vaccines, despite the anxiety of vaccine manufacturers who were aware of short supplies,” says Dr Reti
“It even looks as though PHARMAC may have deliberately altered the date of the vaccine Purchase Orders to make it look as though they had acted more quickly than they did. This would be a very serious matter requiring independent forensic investigation.
“Delays and deception by the Ministry of Health, ESR and PHARMAC clearly show they did not make every second count in the Northland Meningitis outbreak and 502 people including Matt King and myself are supporting the call for an inquiry,” Dr Reti says.
A link to the oral submission by Dr Shane Reti and Matt King to their petition ‘Inquiry into Meningitis outbreak in Northland’ can be found HERE.
Cabinet documents from May last year show that 12 weeks into the university year the fees-free policy was already failing, says National Party Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.
“The documents show that despite pressing on with a full year of the costly policy, the Minister knew the wheels were falling off after only three months.
“The ongoing effectiveness of the program was already being called into question with an ‘uncertain longer term impact’ and enrolment numbers ‘harder to achieve than previously thought’. While years two and three of the policy were also highlighted as a big concern.
“The Government is trying to distance themselves from their target of improving enrolment rates so they can pretend the policy hasn’t been a complete failure, but in reality this was a key objective with Andrew Little saying that they expected a 15 per cent increase in student numbers when he was Labour leader.
“Fees free was failing from the very beginning and every subsequent cabinet paper painted a worse picture until the Government finally conceded it has been a flop this week.
“Standing alongside Kiwibuild as another Labour flagship policy fail, the Government needs to either cancel or commit to the promised 2nd and 3rd years fees-free.”
The Government’s confirmation that the $200m underspend from their failed fees-free policy will go into polytechnic reforms is nothing more than moving funds from one failed experiment to the next, says National Party Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.
“Funding from fees-free will now be redirected into Chris Hipkin’s misguided and undesired polytechnic reforms, which are scheduled for a 1 January start date next year.
“The use of money from the fees-free flop to amalgamate and centralise regional polytechnics into one single Wellington polytechnic is fiscal pillaging.
“When funding is at a premium in the education space, the Minister is redirecting fees-free funds into polytechnic reforms that he has been completely unable to provide costings on. The Auditor General recently noted ‘there is limited information on the financial implications of the proposals’ and was unable to form a view based on the current information.
“If the Minister is seriously going to use fees-free money for an experiment with polytechnic reforms then he must immediately provide costings for the reforms, and take heed of the Auditor General’s advice to delay the proposed start date next year.”
Another flagship Labour policy has failed with Finance Minister Grant Roberson announcing today the fees-free programme had not met enrolment expectations and delivered an underspend, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Shane Reti says.
“Cabinet documents forecast 80,000 learners taking up fees-free last year, when in fact only 50,000 students enrolled, causing the $2.8 billion program to return $197 million back to the Government to reallocate.
“Fees-free has been a failure from the very start with 2400 fewer students enrolling in tertiary education and training than a year ago. The Government has poorly allocated money in education and now it’s in a situation where teachers are engaging in the largest ever industrial action in New Zealand, and one of its key policies has fallen over.
“A recent study showed only six per cent of students found the fees-free policy was critical to them enrolling, but these students were also more likely to drop out of the courses they were enrolled in.
“This is another case of Labour over promising and raising expectations in Opposition and now under delivering. Fees-free joins a long list of Government failures, including welfare reform, KiwiBuild and a Capital Gains Tax. The Government is big on talk but has no plan.
“In the Government’s so called ‘year of delivery’, we’re yet to see any actual delivery.
“Using the underspent $197 million from failed fees free to sustain his disastrous reforms in the polytechnic sector is simply one bad policy propping up another. The Education Minister needs to urgently re-evaluate fees-free and at least delay the rushed reforms of the polytechnic sector.”
The Government is closing down apprentice training organisations due to a ‘financial crisis’, but reports show there was a significant underspend in the last tertiary budget due to its failed fees-free scheme, National’s Tertiary spokesperson Shane Reti says.
“This Government’s wasteful spending on poor policies has meant it allocated money for its fees free scheme money, but because the policy failed and there wasn’t enough uptake, there was a significant underspend in the budget.
“This is because most students at university were always going to attend, and there have been 2400 fewer students enrolling in tertiary education and training than a year ago.
“This $175 million underspend would have been better spent in growing apprenticeships, supporting trades training and increasing the quality of tertiary education.
“The Government has used polytech bailouts as an excuse to amalgamate all polytechnics into one and closing down apprentice training organisations. But the money was there, it was just being spent on the wrong things.
“Apprentice training industry organisations will be rightly furious they are being closed down because of a Labour Party election promise that has failed spectacularly.
“If the Government had got its priorities right in the education sector in the first place, it wouldn’t find itself in the mess it’s in now, with ongoing teacher strikes, fewer students enrolling tertiary education, and significant opposition to Mr Hipkins’ tertiary education reforms.
“With such a big underspend the Minister needs to rethink his ill-thought out policy before Kiwis are forced to waste billions of more dollars on extending fees-free to years two and three.”
A recent survey of Canterbury University students condemns the Labour-led Government’s fees free policy, National’s spokesperson for Tertiary Education Shane Reti says.
“Only six per cent of students surveyed said the Government’s policy was critical to them enrolling, but these students were also more likely to drop out of the courses they were enrolled in and achieve lower grades,” Dr Reti says.
“The very expensive fees free policy has had no impact at all. Most students at university were always going to attend, and the Minister’s own numbers show there are 2400 fewer students in tertiary education and training than a year ago.
“Taxpayers are forking out $2.8 billion for six per cent of students who may not complete their studies. This is simply going backwards.
“With the Government gearing up to extend the policy to include second and third year student, this is not good value for taxpayer’s money and it’s time to admit failure.
“The fees free policy has done nothing but reduce the number of students studying and increase the number having a holiday courtesy of the taxpayer. Rather than overpromising, the Government should be spending this money in education areas where it is really needed.
“Confirmation of wasted tertiary spending is discouraging in the current climate of the Government’s tertiary reforms. St John has said they will lose funds to provide emergency rural ambulance services, employers are telling us they will not rehire apprentices, and the Minister has confirmed there will be significant job losses.
“Mr Hipkins needs to immediately reconsider his ill-thought out bribe before Kiwis spend billions more on years two and three. National will release an education policy document later this year on how we will support learners across the sector with a better, higher quality education experience.”
The Office of the Auditor-General yesterday released a damaging submission on the Government’s plans to dissolve regional polytechnics and merge them into one central body, National’s spokesperson for Tertiary Education Shane Reti says.
“The Auditor-General submits that ‘there is not enough detail in the proposals to assess whether significant structural change will improve the financial sustainability and governance of the ITP sector’,” Dr Reti says.
“This is a damning statement on reforms that Education Minister Chris Hipkins revealed on Sunday could cause ‘significant job losses’. National predicted in February that 1000 jobs would be lost.
“The Auditor-General also notes the risk that there could be a loss of knowledge if staff leave or lose their jobs.
“The submission also highlights concerns with the proposed January 1 timeframe and notes significant transition risks.
“The consultation period was disrespectfully short, and has seen revolt from employers and successfully embedded polytechnics, such as in Invercargill.
“The Auditor-General is an independent entity with oversight for the wise use of Government funds and Government assets. I strongly encourage the Minister to take heed of their submission.
If this is good for the country then the Government should delay the reforms, put it on the election card in 2020 and see what New Zealanders think.”
A link to the submission on the Reform of Vocational Education proposals by the Office of the Auditor-General can be found here.
The week after St John held its annual appeal and called on the Government to fully fund the organisation, it’s ironic that it’s the Government who may end up axing funding for St John volunteers and placing its rural ambulance service at risk, National’s Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson Shane Reti says.
“St John receives $1 million a year from the Industry Training Fund, which also funds Industry Training Organisations. The Industry Training Fund is at risk under the Government’s Reform of Vocational Education,” Dr Reti says.
“This $1 million is used to train rural and remote volunteers. St John is very concerned this funding will end under the tertiary education reforms.
“Remote and rural New Zealand relies heavily on the goodwill of volunteers, but this is at risk if St John cannot train volunteers.
“The Government’s tertiary education reforms will now reach even further into the rural sector by removing rural volunteer training. The Government is sending a bad signal for volunteering, a bad signal for the rural sector, and a bad signal for health in the regions.
“While the Government has spent many months consulting with polytechs, it has only dedicated a miserable seven weeks to consult with Industry Training Organisations and Private Training Establishments.
“National supports volunteers and the rural sector. The Government must ensure rural volunteer emergency services are maintained.”
Hikurangi Primary School is the latest Northland school to raise funds to buy meningitis vaccines, meaning their 5-12 year olds will finally get the vaccinations they require, MP for Whangarei Dr Shane Reti says.
“It’s especially poignant for the school as 7 year old student Alexis Albert tragically died from meningitis last year.
“The Government is claiming there is no money to vaccinate Northland children aged 5-12, yet last year Winston Peters gave $10m for a vaccination program in Papua New Guinea and $1m for a meningitis vaccination program in Fiji.
“Last month Health Minister David Clark said there have been no new meningitis cases in Northland since we started vaccinating, but he has since been proved wrong with the first new case of meningitis W diagnosed in Northland last week.
“I want to acknowledge Hikurangi Primary School, Whangarei Rotary and the local community for fundraising to protect these children. I look forward to visiting the school and administering the vaccinations myself.
“Whilst it’s immensely pleasing to see the vaccinations for 5-12 year olds going ahead, it should have been funded by the Government from the start and local communities cannot afford to be covering the Governments shortfalls.
“I call on the Government to announce a full meningitis vaccination program for all Northland children under 20 in next month’s Budget.”