I recently received a post written by Valeria Perasso entitled ‘We can’t teach girls of the future with books of the past’. As we commence 2018, my view is that New Zealand can also not create an equitable and human rights supporting society utilising only our past government funded higher-tertiary education providers.
New Zealand has been falling in Global University Rankings (Herald, 2017) and in OECD educational achievement ratings for some years (MoE, 2016). The time is overdue for fresh thinking, new initiatives and courage by government and educational leaders to turn this situation around.
New Zealand cannot continue to blindly believe ‘we are so good we don’t need to change’. I see several interrelated challenges burning resources in New Zealand’s higher/tertiary education sector.
Firstly, New Zealand is obsessed with the merits of public/private education funding in the higher/tertiary education sector. Since 1990, private higher/tertiary institutions have emerged in New Zealand, as in most other countries around the world. They have survived despite the field they play on not being level. They face a range of issues not experienced by those with secure government funding i.e. endless regulatory changes, new fees, costs and indirect taxes, ill-informed reputational attacks in the media and so on. Despite this stressful and unhelpful environment these institutions have continued to provide quality education to diverse national and international learners.
Statements are often issued saying things like ‘10 PTEs in Auckland being investigated by NZQA’, but they could equally have said, had media done a little more research, that ‘hundreds of private educational organisations are effective in graduating work-ready national and international students in a cost effective and learner centred way for the benefit of New Zealand and other countries’.
The media and many politicians continue to regurgitate out dated notions advocating for the system to be elitist, hierarchical, a place not of developing people but of simply transmitting knowledge as though the last thirty years of educational research had not occurred. They advocate for a system to sort people into pass and fail piles and to then eject them into society. Little cognisance of the mental health repercussions and talent loss costs of such a system are voiced. Yet effective educators know in quality education providers all or nearly all students achieve.
In-depth reading of MoE reports shows another side to this story. New Zealanders have long valued private and integrated school systems, yet some have tried to create an ‘other’ to discriminate against, target and to convince New Zealanders that somehow all private higher/tertiary level educational organisations are: money grabbing, substandard, foreign owned, Permanent Residency supporting entities helping mass migrations into New Zealand.
The reality is most private higher/tertiary education organisations are family owned, dedicated to quality and small class education in areas the owners are passionate about. Perhaps it is time the MoE made more publically accessible the reports they have undertaken over the last ten years that show the high achievement level of most small private higher/tertiary education providers at nearly all levels of the higher-tertiary education spectrum.
Currently New Zealand’s 500 plus private sector educational institutions are subjected to a range of discriminatory and anti-competitive conduct in the sector that achieves little but does deprive students of resources like time with teaching staff. The system is obsessed with policing the sector and not with supporting cross institutional collegiality, mutual learning or the lifting of higher-tertiary learning achievement for all in New Zealand.
Secondly human rights and equity issues plague our higher-tertiary education system, they include: unilateral entry standard changes and compromising of the rights of high school graduates to select and pursue higher/tertiary education where and in what they want. Graduates’ choices are compromised by inducements in the form of loans and allowances. This inequitable policy, reduces graduates’ career options, and reduces options about where and how they study.
Why, I wonder, are not all adult high school graduates equitably supported to attend any NZCUAP or NZQA approved higher/tertiary education provider in New Zealand?
The above inducements also turn our high school graduates into debtors. Those with limited personal resources have little choice but to take government ‘loans and allowances’ and to attend the ‘government funded institutions and programmes’. This means at the tender age of 18, these students are encouraged to become what often turns out to be lifelong debtors to the government. How can an 18 year old possibly understand what it might be like in three to five years to have to pay back 40 to 120 thousand dollars in debt?
Is this system really helpful to New Zealand and New Zealanders, is it in our interest to foster taking on debt in the young, does it help level the playing field? Government statistics tells us most Pasifika women never repay these debts instead through these systems many (but especially Pasifika and Māori) are forever locked out of home ownership; this is the type of inequitable system that creates an underclass.
Further inequalities include New Zealand private higher/tertiary education providers facing a never-ending stream of evaluation, fees and mini taxes to cross the first bar; to be ‘NZQA approved’. These fees and taxes do not however lead to an even playing field, and to government funding. They merely win the institution the opportunity to cross yet another expensive bar of bureaucracy and tests to be government funded.
Susan F. Stevenson (nee Graham) is chief executive director of House of Montrose Ltd.