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A kink in the cyclone fence

A kink in the cyclone fence

Mozilla, P2PUni and CCLearn teaming up to offer a free course is interesting.. I wonder if this sort of thing is set to grow? Last year a less formal international group teamed up on Wikiversity and ran the free course, Composing Free and Open Educational Resources attracting almost 100 people. Before that was David Wiley’s free course Introduction to Open Education – attracting a similar number, and of course most people know of Downes and Seimens massive (in terms of participation) course on Connectivism. Following this model are our free courses, Flexible Learning and Facilitating Online.. we are soon to adopt Composing Free and Open Educational Resources to our folio too, and quite a number of progamme coordinators at Otago Polytechnic seem to be building up to the model as well.

What I’m wondering is that all these free online courses might be setting a trend and developing a market and model maturity. We (Educational Development at Otago Polytechnic) have worked out how to run these courses with a return, and are approaching agencies to see if we can attract further income for offering these courses free, relating to other incentives.

What you send appears to be following the trend, the same examples that many others in the sector have already cited and discussed with interest (as yet no backlash). This recent addition to the model of free and open access online learning is no doubt looking into ways on how to make it pay as well.. I hope we will all continue to share what we find out on this question. It appears now more likely that the model will flourish outside the traditional educational institutions. Although we are working hard to keep Otago Polytechnic in the game. These free courses might grow to a point of becoming a direct challenge to the user-pays educational model, especially when some of those institutions start recognising these free courses in their assessments and certification processes, and other agencies and sectors start appreciating the indirect returns that are possible.

Will this model scale outside the media and online learning sector? Will we start seeing quality and recognised free online courses in business admin? human resource management? the humanities? the sciences? Even the trades! I know we are working on it…

Here’s a Canadian’s perspective on why university education should be free by Heather Mallick. Of course, I think it well worth considering, even if the perspective comes across as more cold hard economic rationalism.. the comments therefore represent that line – but when in Rome hey! I still appear to be the only one in NZ giving free vocational education and training serious thought and development, that’s a worry. Any links anyone?

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.

New Zealand’s collective student debt is approaching NZ$10 billion!!

Lets take a look at the cost of living for a student in Dunedin per week and get an idea of how crappy this situation is.

Weekly cost of living

Rent = $100 p/w

Energy, Internet and telephone = $75 p/w

Health = $20 p/w

Food = $100 p/w

Car = $80 p/w

Furnishings = $20 p/w

Clothing = $20 p/w

Social = $50 p/w

3 trips home per year = $30 p/w

Savings = $50 p/w

Stationary, computing and text books = $30 p/w

Student fees = $50 p/w + 40 hours p/w


Weekly income

Student allowance (if eligible) = $150 p/w

20 hours casual work @ $12 minimum per hour (resulting in a 60 hour week when combined with study time) = $240 p/w

TOTAL INCOME PER WEEK = $390 p/w (Gross!)

Weekly short fall of $235 per week. Totaling $12220 annually!!

So, let’s drop the car and savings… weekly short fall now = $105. Totaling $5460 short fall annually.

I guess we could keep chipping away at some of those weekly expenses.. who needs a social life, or trips home (or away), or health… and I guess they could work harder than 60 hours per week, or sacrifice some of that study time to work more, or find a job during the semester breaks to pay back some of that short fall (provided your landlord, food market, and all the others can stomach giving you credit until then. What about student fees? Let’s take a look at that…

Looking at student fee in relation to cost of course

A 3 year course at $12000.. what is the cost of running a course for 16 people per year? (Class sizes are one of the big reasons you would study at a Polytechnic btw.. imagine 350 people or more in a class, I struggle to see the value in university fees..)

Teacher @ $60 p/hr x 20 hrs p/w x 40 weeks = $48000 per year

Classroom and amenities = $4000 p/y

Internet and 16 computers = $32000 p/y

Other specialist learning resource fittings = $6000 p/y

Administration = $4000 p/y

Library = $6000 p/y


Less Government subsidy of around 70 – 80% = $30 000

Divided between 16 students = $1875 That’s less than half their fee!
(that subsidy figure needs checking.. it is really had to find)

Now, if we consider that in the breakdown of weekly student living costs – included in that is a computer and Internet. That might suggest that we could scale back our provision of such things (ignoring for now the fact that most students probably choose to forgo that cost in their struggle to survive here) and reduce the cost of the course considerably further (especially if I am out with that subsidy and course cost estimate).

But students would still be being forced into debt.

So what could we do in the way of free learning, fee education to afford more flexibility – save another $40 per week? And what could we do with other Government grant money to provide computers and Internet at affordable prices for students – save another $50 p/w? And what could we do with Open Educational Resources to reduce text books and library costs – save another $20 p/w? And what could we do with distance education so as to offer options for avoiding Dunedin costs of living – save another $100 p/w?

I don’t think we are thinking hard enough on what we can be doing to help address this serious social problem affecting the quality of learning in NZ. We have students who have little choice but to study and work 60 hour weeks, racking up and worrying about debt, and/or reducing their standard of living well below what I would call acceptable. I dare anyone to take a tour of rental properties in Dunedin.