Academe presents wish list to Labour

August 16, 2002

New Zealand's academics have called on the country's new Labour-led minority government to boost investment in universities.

The Labour Party formed a coalition last week with the Progressive Coalition Party and signed a formal agreement with the United Future party for support on votes of confidence and supply. Steve Maharey is expected to retain the tertiary education portfolio and to continue the programme of reform.

The New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee said the country's universities should be resourced at levels similar to their Australian counterparts. "Both government and students would need to make increases in per capita investment to attain this goal," the submission says. A well-resourced system would enable staff salaries to approach private-sector and overseas rates.

The NZVCC urged caution in making changes to the student-loan scheme. "Financing of tertiary education for students through the loans scheme has enabled a much wider participation in tertiary education than would otherwise have been possible. The incoming government needs to look very carefully at the costs and benefits of any major alternative."

The NZVCC supports further development of the new centres of research excellence and closer collaboration between the eight existing universities, as well as greater collaboration between universities, other tertiary institutions and the government-funded Crown Research Institutes.

But it warned that institutional autonomy and academic freedom must be valued and respected, hence the proposed new system of negotiated charters and profiles "needs to be managed with a light touch".

The Association of University Staff also emphasised the need for more funding. It said that given more than a decade of declining or, more recently, static government funding, "there is an urgent need for a firm commitment by government to a long-term, sustained schedule for significant new investment in the university system".

Union national president Grant Duncan said that while university staff had some reservations about Labour's higher education strategy, "we would not like to see any major about-face or disruption in the overall policy direction". However, he expected it would be "business as usual" for the sector.

University students have called on the Green and the United Future parties to make sure that increased access to student living allowances is a central part of their negotiations with Labour to form a government. All three parties support increased access to allowances. "There is enough common ground to secure a substantially increased eligibility for allowances," New Zealand University Students' Association co-president Andrew Campbell said.

The Labour Party has not made any formal agreement with the Greens, who reject its support for an end to a moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms, but have not ruled out seeking Greens' support for votes on various legislation.

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