New Zealand's radical rethink wins over critics

March 23, 2001

Universities have given a cautious welcome to a watershed report on the future of New Zealand's higher education institutions.

The Tertiary Education Advisory Commission has advised the government to scrap the higher education market and to encourage the sector to compete globally.

The vice-chancellors' committee said it supported in principle the recommendation for a new tertiary education commission, but questioned the degree of autonomy it would have.

"The concept of an intermediary body has to be commended in that it will distance universities from day-to-day political pressure, especially if the proposal leads to multi-year funding," said James McWha, vice-chancellor of Massey University. "Equally," he added, "the commission's powers to subvert university councils' decision-making must be restricted."

The staff union, the Association of University Staff, welcomed the report. But its president, Neville Blampied, said that while he supported the report's general direction, he was concerned at the timetable. "We are unlikely to see any realistic improvement in overall funding levels until academic year 2003. For a system in crisis, this is intolerable."

University students called for representation on the commission while the Association of Private Education Providers said that integrating second-chance learning with the rest of tertiary education was a positive step. It was concerned, however, that any moves to change funding should be done on the basis of quality and not whether a programme was public or private.

The report, Shaping the System , is the second of four to be produced by TEAC, which was set up by the government to develop a long-term strategic direction for tertiary education. The next two, on the form and content of the tertiary education strategy and the implementation of it, including funding issues, are due in June and August respectively.

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