MINISTER FOR Tertiary Education Dr. Michael Cullen last week announced further details of the tertiary funding model reforms, designed “to ensure tertiary education has greater quality and relevance”.
The new model, to be increased incrementally from 2008, will involve a three-year funding plan that will be guided by the annual Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities (STEP). Based on this, the Tertiary Education Minister and Associate Finance Minister will allocate tertiary funding based on key criteria including patterns of skill and learning needs across the sector and the relative performance of various sub-sectors in achieving educational outcomes.
Dr. Cullen intends for the new model to be about collaboration, rather than competition amongst providers, and hopes the changes will eliminate unnecessary programmes. “Under the new approach, tertiary education organisations will be expected to play to their strengths and reduce undesirable overlaps,” he says.
According to Dr. Cullen, the existing “bums-on-seats” funding model has caused spending to be “particularly unpredictable,” including the proliferation of low-quality courses.
“What we’ve seen is a sudden mushrooming of growth [for tertiary programmes] – high volume at low quality. Hence the ad hoc decision to block off some of those areas. We’re trying to move away from that.”
Co-president of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations Joey Randall is generally pleased with the announcement, although he states that there’s “not a lot more that we didn’t already know before”.
The introduction of “funding caps” for each institution is the only cause for concern from the proposed model, says Randall. “This is basically to give universities stability. We see why they want caps. We think that that’s something positive, but we think they shouldn’t be ‘hard’. They should be flexible enough to allow for changes over that three-year period.”
“We obviously think that not every institution should be funding lawyers, but we are saying that if they want to fund 500 law places but there’s a demand for 550, there should be enough flexibility to increase that amount.”
While Cullen has expressed his intention to move away from the “bumson-seats” model, AUS General Secretary Helen Kelly says it is still a significant factor in the new model. “We would like to see a much more investigative approach to a new funding model – that would be a move away from ‘bums-onseats’.”
National party education spokesperson Bill English says the reform is an unsatisfactory attempt to undo problems the Government is responsible for. “It amounts to trying to clean up the mess they’ve created. When Maharey brought in the reforms five years ago – even the Government decided that was a failure, and that’s one of the main reasons they decided they had to make a change: because their own reform failed.”
English also believes that students will no longer aid in dictating the direction the tertiary model is to take. “It’s more paperwork, more bureaucrats and less money and less choice for students. This is shifting away from student-centred funding and placing much more power of direction and political decision-making in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats in Wellington.”