free 'sweet' hugs ccby: kalandrakas

Tertiary education in New Zealand is publicly funded through a system known as Equivalent Full Time Student (EFTS). Basically, the government gives money to a course on a per student basis, with the amount determined by the credits or points value of the course, how many learning hours there are, and what the equivalent is in full-time weeks. Different institutions add a fee on top of the EFTS funding for each student to pay… apparently to cover operating costs (or even make profit).

I don’t yet know what dollar value 1 full EFTS is, but lets say its $10000.

If I run a course for 10 weeks at 5 hours per week, the EFTS value might work out to be something like .04 EFTS as it is less than a full time course.. if my guesstimate of 1 EFTS being $10000 is near right, then the funding available for one student doing my course would be .04 of that, or $400. How many students do I need to run my course on EFTS only? How much does it cost to run my course?

My course goes for 10 weeks, and requires a facilitator to commit 5 hours per week to run the course:

Facilitator: 50 hours at $50 per hour = $2500

It also needs promotion, a little printing material, and some administrative assistance:

Marketing and administration= $1000

And I need to ensure that there are learning support services available to people, such as access to Community Learning Centres, student support services, and library services (if ever the library gets with the times).

Student services levy = $500

My course is a distance learning course, meaning I don’t need to book rooms or use classroom equipment. I use freely available Internet services to conduct the course so I don’t need computer labs or IT services. So lets call it at this point:

The running cost for the course = $4000

So I need a minimum of 10 formally enrolled, EFTS bringing students to run the course. At $400 per student, this would bring in $4000 to the course. With 10 students, my course breaks even.A pretty lean ship, but afloat non-the-less…

If I can run this course on the EFTS funding only, then the course is effectively free to those 10 students, because I am not charging a student fee on top of the EFTS funding. If they formally enrol, I get .04 EFTS for each person.

Now how do we make it free for everyone?

If the 10 people are not having to pay a fee, then they won’t mind if other people do the course for free. I could accept 20, 30, 100 people into the course if I knew I could still run it for the $4000. As long as I have my minimum 10 people formally enrolled and bringing in that .04 EFTS each.

These 10 people must be New Zealanders. So once we have 10 New Zealanders enrolled, we can start the course and open it up for anyone else to participate. Anyone from anywhere, for free. From the New Zealand Government’s point of view, 10 New Zealanders are getting educated. From my point of view, 20, 30, 100 people are getting educated. If the Government take issue with tha idea, they could think of it this way: 20, 30 or 100 of these people are not New Zealanders, not only should this not matter because they have only paid for 10 NZers, but we now have 20, 30 even 100 international (and local) people engaging in New Zealand education which could well lead to future investment, migration or other international exchanges. I have witnessed this very thing emerging out of the Facilitating Online course for example.

If I can work out how to run a course on EFTS only, and then make that course openly available to anyone without it resulting in higher running costs, I would be making that course available for free to anyone in the world provided I had the minimum number of New Zealanders formally enrolled to start the course in the first place. The example budget I put here was based on 10 people… I wonder if the course was free whether we might not attract 15 New Zealanders and thus a little more funding. Could we invest that extra $1250 in staff training and resource development?

Obviously my course is designed to run on the smell of an oily rag, but I reckon there’s a few courses that could run more this way. Apart from the issues of getting teachers skilled up to run courses on oily rags, the concern is that this is political. I seem to be the only one trying to think of ways to make New Zealand education free for anyone, and that most people see EFTS as a subsidy rather than full funding. I’m sure there will be political blockages all over the place in this…

It seems that most people in the NZ tertiary education sector have become very comfortable with a user pays education system, to the point where an egalitarian system like in Scandinavian countries now seems very distant, and that 10 billion dollars in student debt is acceptable! Despite the fact that the managers and teachers behind this current education system are majority a generation who enjoyed access to free education when they were students – at a time when their generation swelled the demand significantly!

If we could do it then, why not now? We have technology that enables us to scale at little extra cost, we have just enough government funding there to be able to run a few courses at least, but is there a political will anywhere to set New Zealand education apart and make it free.. for everyone who wants it!