Some politicians in NZ have been working hard at reducing the levels of debt that NZs aquire if they become students.

And I’m interested in what the Polytechnic sector can do to help reduce the cost of study for individual NZers.

Oweing more than you own

Oweing more than you own

Tertiary education in NZ is funded partly by Government and partly by the institutions charging end user fees. I think, through smarter educational development work, we can do more to reduce those fees. A tour of the NZ University Campuses tells you pretty quickly they’re not short of money – yet fees for study rize dramatically regardless of mounting concern over high levels of student debt.

Why was tertiary education in New Zealand free in the 1970s and 80s? And why would the same people who enjoyed a free education at that time then go and career into managerial roles and apply fees for education in return?

Some say it was a totally different time back then. I’ll say it was! Education was free!!

Were there less students in the 1970s and 80s then there are now? In 1980 the population of NZ was 3,176,400. 28 years later, that population is at 4,297,377. I haven’t found a statistic stating how many students there were enrolled at these times, but I doubt its a simple comparison either.

In the 1970s and early 80s the baby boomer generation made up the student population.  I would hazard a guess that the baby boomers present a population bulge in pretty much all things they have been interested in as they progress through life – from pop music, fashion, education, social changes, equal opportunity at work, hedonism/individuality and Godlessness (just thought I’d throw that in there to check you’re reading), recent property investments, and now retirement and health. I’m thinking that same population bulge might be evident in student numbers at the time, and in teacher numbers today.

So the cost of providing education has gone up? Well yes. We perhaps have a higher teacher to student ratio – especially in the Polytechnic sector, (perhaps we have more than a few boomers holding on for retirement), but more noticeably in the university sector is their expenditure in property and other things. Huge buildings, beautifully fitted and refitted every year, immaculate gardens, investment in grand stadium projects, etc. That must cost a bit. And there’s IT and eLearning of course, spare no expense there!

What other factors are there that might explain why tertiary education has gone from 100% free for the individual NZers, to very very expensive?

NZ’s Gross Domestic Product per capita has been in consistent decline compared to the OECD since the early 70s, leaving us less and less money to collectively spend on education. The tax system was reformed in the 1980s reducing the highest tax rate, but introducing a goods and services tax across the board so I guess that balanced out in th elong run (did the rich get richer and the poor got poorer in that deal?)

Does all this explain a user pay tertiary education system? Should trades, services and vocational training be included in this user pay model? Is this user pay model working out for Polytechs – specifically trades related training? I don’t think it is at all!

Surely the Polytechnic Sector at least can recognise this petty user pay system is not working out for trades and services education at least – and as a result NZ has significant problems in this regard.

Its not just me who thinks fees for education are one of the biggest barriers to people considering a further education, the students think it too! And some politicians. But I am yet to walk into any meeting in the Polytech and hear anyone talking seriously about what we can do to address the student fee problem. I think we can try harder.

So this year I intend to work pretty hard at developing and testing ways in which we might offer our education without a fee to the end user. I consider this sound educational development work, directly related to flexible learning. At first glance at some of our courses, it seems it is possible and certanly worth testing. I’m thinking a combination of better and more efficient teaching and assessment practices, real community and industry engagement and partnerships, and something like Southern Institute’s approach to acheiving zero fees – but with better workplace relations.

I might need some political support at some point.