Cash-poor NZ fears expulsion from world elite

February 9, 2001

New Zealand universities have warned the government that the tertiary education system is unsustainable.

The vice-chancellors' committee told ministers that without increased funding in this year's budget, New Zealand would not be able to continue to provide "internationally comparable university education".

The Association of University Staff, the union representing academic and general staff, has started lobbying MPs, while the Vice-Chancellors' Committee presented a case to the government late last year, in which it said universities face a funding shortfall of NZ$17.1 million (Pounds 5.2 million) this year under the current fee stabilisation policy.

Under the policy, tertiary institutions get a 2.3 per cent funding increase this year in return for freezing tuition fees at last year's levels.

However, universities say they end up net losers because 2.3 per cent does not cover inflation and other costs.

Both groups are emphasising the sector's underfunding compared with its international counterparts.

The vice-chancellors say that the University of Auckland is resourced at 57 per cent of the average for Australia's top universities, and that academic salaries lag well behind those paid in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Africa.

AUS president Neville Blampied said New Zealand universities were completely out of step with many other developed countries, which were increasing their public investment in higher education.

"Other countries have realised that if they want to aspire to and achieve a knowledge society and knowledge economy, they have to start re-investing both in higher education and in research and development," he said.

Dr Blampied said that New Zealand's investment in university education as a percentage of gross domestic product had fallen 20 per cent in real terms since 1991, and that funding, in real terms, had fallen from NZ$10,736 per equivalent full-time student to NZ$6,915 between 1980 and 1999.

Dr Blampied added that he hoped the campaign would influence this year's budget.

"If we don't see positive effects, we will see a disaster. We have seen the situation where in one year (in universities) more people have been made redundant or were lost through early retirement than in the preceding 20 years. How long can the system continue to bleed human capital?" He said that the notion that the "mysterious lifestyle factor" would compensate for poor salaries and "deplorable" teaching and research conditions "is just a fiction".

Steve Maharey, associate minister for tertiary education, said the government acknowledged that the 1990s funding cuts had had a negative impact, but added that since Labour had been in power, it had started to reinvest in the system.

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