Union concern tertiary bill could be pushed through

Universities and the tertiary union believe the bill will damage the industry. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) is worried the Government is trying to push through changes to the education system without adequate consultation.

Jo Scott, TEU policy officer, outlined the concerns at the Education and Science Select Committee on Wednesday.

The Government-sponsored Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill is aimed at increasing funding flexibility for the tertiary system and strengthening the accountability and monitoring of the sector.

It would allow the Education Minister to shift funding across the tertiary education sector as deemed necessary, while wananga would also be able to apply to call themselves a university.

Last week vice-chancellors from several top New Zealand universities appeared before the committee, concerned about the proposed changes.

They were particularly concerned about the possibility of private institutions being able to call themselves universities, which they argued could have an impact on their own reputations.

Scott told the committee the TEU was deeply concerned about where the changes could take the sector.

It would embed the ideology of privatisation into tertiary education and make it acceptable for private individuals and companies to profit from taxpayer investment.

“The staff in the public sector are much better paid and have much better conditions than those in the private sector so in the private sector those providers are able to slice a profit off the taxpayer investment that goes into those organisations because they pay their staff less.”

Nanette Cormack, TEU deputy secretary warned the proposal could lead to higher costs for students while Danny Stevens, campaigns and communications officer, told the committee public institutions could be forced to spend more money on branding and cosmetic improvements to compete.

“This Bill takes the market experiment and sets it at an entirely new level and risks undermining tertiary education as a public service. Staff conditions will also be squeezed.”

National MP Jo Goodhew asked the TEU representatives why they had not spoken more about the impact on students in their submission, rather than the pressures members were facing dealing with students.

“What I was looking for on behalf of the taxpayers that I represent in my electorate who are potential current or past students, something that might indicate that you have anything in here that is individual learner centric, because that seemed totally missing.”

Scott responded that the pressures their members faced, which were largely because of the constrained funding environment they worked in, ultimately did impact on the students.

Before the hearing the union released an open letter signed by more than 100 students, academics, and staff about their issue with a proposal to introduce greater powers to divert funding away from public providers to private.

TEU national secretary Sharn Riggs said the Government was quietly rushing through the law before the election.

“The law is opposed by thousands of people and we are worried that these views won’t be properly listened to.

“MPs need to set aside more time so we can have a proper public debate about what this legislation means for the millions of Kiwis hoping to access tertiary education now and in the future.”