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August 18, 2014 | by  | in Homepage News | [ssba]

Salient Exclusive: Labour’s Tertiary Education Policy

Salient is exclusively releasing the Labour Party’s tertiary-education policy, ahead of its official announcement later today (Monday 18 August). Tertiary-education policy is all too often sidelined or turned into a lolly scramble. Over the past six years, this National government has made wide-ranging changes to the way our tertiary institutions function, most notably to university governance, student support and student membership. It is to be hoped that recent dirty politics won’t distract the politicians from meaningful engagement with tertiary-education issues this election.



  • VSM: Will be repealed.
  • STUDENT ALLOWANCES: Postgraduate students will get their Allowances back.
  • UNI COUNCILS: Will stay as they are now with requirements for student, staff and Māori representation.
  • TARGETED FUNDING: University funding will be targeted towards “courses where New Zealand can create wealth.”


  • TEC: Will review the way funding to universities is decided.
  • PBRF: Will review criteria by which PBRF allocates funding to research.
  • ENROLMENTS: Will review enrolment caps in times of low employment.
  • STUDENT ALLOWANCES: The student-support system will be reviewed fully, focussing on Allowance eligibility.


  • FEES: Universities will still be able to increase fees by 4 per cent every year, though they’ll have to justify changes of over 2 per cent.
  • CORES: Will continue to get funding.

Funding to universities

  • Labour says it will review the structure and operation of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). This will be done to “develop a more collaborative approach to tertiary education in New Zealand by reviewing and re-invigorating the network-of-provision approach to funding.”
  • The TEC advises the Government on how to fund tertiary institutions, including universities. The Government spends around $3 billion a year on tertiary education, $2 billion of which is allocated to universities through Student Achievement Component (SAC) funding. SAC funding is based both on the number of students enrolled in courses and the types of courses they are enrolled in. Universities are therefore in competition to attract students and the funding that comes with them.
  • Earlier this year, the TEC chair John Spencer said universities should be run like businesses, and universities should specialise as New Zealand is small.
  • Labour also promised to review the cap on university enrolments, particularly in times of high unemployment, and re-establish the Tripartite Forum, which was first established in 2005 and had representatives from universities, government and university staff.
  • Labour also said they would invest some of the $1 billion they are allocating to health, education and other public services to tertiary institutions. How much money this would be is unclear.


  • If elected, Labour would require institutions to ensure staff, student and Māori representation on university councils. Councils will stay the current size – between 12 and 20, depending on the institution.
  • The National Government has tried to remove representation requirements from university councils, along with downsizing councils, with the Education Amendment Bill.
  • The Education Amendment Bill has been strongly opposed by Labour, the Greens and NZUSA. Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce said he thought universities should be trusted to make “the right calls for their institutions.”
  • The Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament, although Labour would ditch it entirely. Grant Robertson told Salient the Bill was “a solution in search of a problem. There is actually nothing wrong with the governance of NZ universities.”


  • The annual Fee Maxima (the amount the University can increase its fees every year) would stay at 4 per cent under Labour.
  • Labour would introduce requirements for institutions to provide written justifications for any fee increases which exceed 2 per cent.
  • Universities have raised their fees by the full 4 per cent Fee Maxima every year since it was introduced (by Labour, after National transferred responsibility for setting fees to university councils).
  • In October 2013, Steven Joyce said the Government would look at reducing maximum fee increases.


  • Labour want to review the criteria of the PBRF “to ensure a broad range of research success is recognised.”
  • The Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) allocates research funding. In 2012, the Government committed to investing an additional $100 million in the PBRF over four years. This will result in the Fund reaching $300 million in 2016/17.
  • Earlier this year, the Government proposed increasing the proportion of PBRF income allocated based on external research income, from 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the Fund.
  • Labour would continue to fund COREs and research funds.
  • Alongside its TEC review, Labour says it will “support and foster a collaborative university system, where each of our universities is enabled to focus on its areas of research and teaching strength.”
  • Labour says it will target government funding “towards courses where New Zealand can create wealth and lessen investment into job areas where surplus expertise already exists”, but also that they will “maintain a university system that offers broad-based programmes, including acknowledging the importance of the humanities.”
  • In Budget 2013, National increased funding to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects by $85 million, with $68 million more for science.
  • In July, the Green Party pledged $50 million a year to fund 1000 places for STEM students. At the time, Steven Joyce said it was “good to see the Greens playing catch-up.”

Student support

  • Labour would reinstate Student Allowances for postgraduate students and students in recognised Long Programmes. Long Programmes fall into two categories: progression in a subject, such as a Bachelor’s/Master’s/PhD; and individual qualifications requiring extended study, often with a prerequisite requirement, for example a Bachelor of Medicine or a Bachelor of Chiropractic.
  • Postgraduate allowances were cut in the 2012 Budget, in a move which was opposed by Labour, the Greens, NZUSA and many other groups. Steven Joyce said these cuts would save $33 million over four years.
  • Labour would remove the seven-year EFTS limit on borrowing for medical and dental students.
  • Labour also promises a “full review of the student-support system”. The review would particularly look at broadening eligibility for Allowances (including parental and age thresholds), making support from living costs and Student Allowances more consistent and “closing loopholes which create unfairness in the system.”
  • Grant Robertson, Labour’s Wellington Central MP and Associate Spokesperson for Tertiary Education, told Salient last week that Labour would set up a formal working group, with students on the panel, to review the system.

Student Associations + VSM

  • Labour would repeal the controversial Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Act 2011 which introduced voluntary student membership (VSM).
  • VSM would be replaced with “enduring legislation that will secure the critical role student associations play, based on the amendments Labour put forward during the debate in 2011.” At the time, Labour talked in the House about opt-out measures whereby students could decide not to be a part of students’ associations, as well as financial-accountability measures.
  • Grant Robertson told Salient last week that Labour would repeal the law and replace it with something more stable. “If need be, you could work on some kind of opt-out provision. It kind of contradicts what I believe about the Government, but if that’s what is going to make it more stable, then it is easier to opt out.”

Institutions of Technology and Polytechnics

  • Labour will increase focus on regional polytechs, in some cases providing “additional support” for institutions which do not have sufficient enrolments to self-fund.
  • Labour will also establish Centres of Vocational Excellence to encourage vocational research and innovation, at a cost of $40 million over four years.

Adult and Community Education

  • As previously announced, Labour would increase funding to adult and community education by $13 million for the 2016 calendar year.
  • $54 million of ACE funding was cut by the Government in 2009. The cuts saw nationwide enrolments in ACE drop from 225,000 in 2009 to just 35,000 in 2012, after removal of subsidies made the courses unaffordable.
  • National has dismissed ACE as hobby courses – “twilight golf, radio singalong, pet homeopathy, Moroccan cooking and concrete mosaics” – but proponents say they enable people to upskill in areas such as computer courses, first-aid and antenatal classes.

Refugee and migrant study

  • Labour says it will “ensure adequate and appropriate funding so that refugees and migrants are supported to study” and, as previously announced, increase ESOL funding by $1 million a year, additional to the general increases in ACE.

Private training establishments

  • Labour would work to develop “more rigorous quality-assurance measures, particularly in relation to courses targeted at international students.”

Teacher education

  • Prospective teachers would have a higher standard of entry with a “vigorous process for pre-screening” under Labour.

About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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