Equal Opportunities & The Tertiary System

Published: Thu 2 Nov 2000 09:32 AM
Steve Maharey
Speech Notes
Equal Opportunities & The Tertiary System:
Encouraging Greater Responsiveness
Keynote address to the Auckland Tertiary Equity Committee (ATEC) 2000 Conference. Sorrento Conference Centre, One Tree Hill, Auckland.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at your conference today. This event is an important opportunity for the sector to draw together its experiences and expertise to advance the cause of equity in tertiary education.
Educational equity is important to me. Right from my first involvement in education I have been greatly impressed with Clarence Beeby's credo:
“every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his powers.”
Towards the end of his career Beeby expressed regret about the use of the masculine 'his". But it was clear what he meant - a fair go in education for everyone in this country. That credo has been at the heart of educational policy, under Labour anyway, ever since. So I am delighted to be here today to talk about equity and this Government's tertiary education policy.
In the 1930s it became obvious to people like Beeby and Peter Fraser that countries such as New Zealand had to make secondary education universal. They had a hard struggle to get that concept accepted. Now it is unquestioned.
I believe life-long learning is now at the same introductory stage of development. The term has become almost a cliché, which unfortunately undercuts its importance as a concept -- and one vital to the knowledge society. If this country fails to build a tertiary education system that offers many, varied, equitable and affordable opportunities for life-long learning to all citizens then we will not become the knowledge society which we aspire, and have the ability, to become.
In his autobiography Beeby described the focus of educators in his time as being "to improve the lot of the individual while still serving the interests of the economy and the community. It was a matter of following the light and not the lantern."
We need to re-dedicate ourselves to that goal, and I believe this Government is doing that . I want to talk to you today about our efforts so far, both in terms of the general affordability of tertiary education and in addressing more specific barriers. In doing so I will also take the opportunity to announce a major new equity initiative.
The recent Maani/Warner report to the University of Auckland Council made the point strongly that the level and unpredictability of tuition costs was deterring access:
. . . changing and increasing fees and parameters of the student support system create uncertainty that is a disincentive for students considering participation in tertiary studies. Stability and continuity of funding are crucial for students considering participation in three to six years of tertiary education—a feature that has unfortunately been lacking in the past decade.
For nine years, under the previous Government's policy, student fees escalated. From 1990 when a standard fee of $1,250 was charged, average fees have increased to approximately $3,500. This rapid rise was a concern, for as well as individual students, many parents have been hit hard by these increases. Further it put institutions, already under a sinking lid, under greater financial pressure and diverted time and energy from the core task of providing life-long learning.
This Government has stopped that upward spiral. Every university, polytechnic, college of education and wananga have announced publicly that they will take the Government's 'fee stabilisation' offer and keep fees at 2000 levels. Most private training establishments have also accepted the offer, though not all.
I really appreciate the sector's willingness to support the fee freeze. It wasn't the most generous offer in the world – we recognise that – and their acceptance really shows a commitment to stemming the tide of rising fees.
Thanks to that attitude on the part of our tertiary institutions, next year will mark a turning point. The fee freeze will not be a one-off event. The fee spiral is over. This Government is committed to the ongoing stabilisation of fees, and then bringing them down over time.
However the fee freeze has not been our most extensive measure to restore the affordability of tertiary education. One of the first things we did when we became the Government was to stop charging interest on loans while students are studying for full-time and other low-income students.
We have also:
 Implemented the principle that at least 50% of repayments, in excess of the inflation adjustment, will always go to reducing the loan principal rather than being eaten up in interest repayments;
 Reversed National’s plans to raise the repayment rate to 15 cents in the dollar for income in excess of $50,000 a year;
 Reviewed the way the interest rate is set and frozen the rate at 1999 levels in the interim; and
 Restored students’ option to borrow for compulsory students’ association fees.
This package, at the cost of $420 million over four years is, after the restoration of superannuation rates, probably the second most expensive single initiative this Government is likely to produce.
This fairer approach to student loans was in many ways our flagship promise for tertiary education. There have been those in the sector who have castigated us for this largesse, saying some or all of the money should have gone to the universities and other tertiary institutions rather than to students.
But we stand by the policy and we will work to alleviate the larger debt, but we have to move slowly and cautiously because the costs involved are astronomical.
All students will benefit from the fee freeze and a significant majority will gain from ‘no interest while studying’. But we all know that educational opportunity is not a ‘level playing field’. Many prospective students face particular barriers and obstacles above and beyond those that others face. The Government and providers each need to recognise these barriers and obstacles, and develop measures to help address them.
The Labour/Alliance Government recognises that there are many sectors of our community in which disadvantage is particularly concentrated. We need to focus our efforts to ‘close the gaps’ in terms of educational and other advantages and opportunities, between these and the rest of society.
None of this will come as any surprise to anybody here today.
Nor will it come as a surprise that amongst the most disadvantaged groups are Maori and Pacific peoples. This Government is determined to begin the process of closing the gaps between Maori and Pacific participation and achievement in tertiary education, and that of other New Zealanders.
But there are other groups too who face particular barriers to educational opportunity. Sole parents and disabled people also face significant educational barriers. These are also gaps we want to close.
That is why the Government has made a number of changes to the training incentive allowance (TIA) in recognition of the additional barriers that are faced by domestic purposes, widows and invalids beneficiaries. The TIA provides assistance with fees and course-related costs for these groups of people.
Although studies showed that receipt of the TIA is associated with improved employment outcomes, the previous Government constrained the allowance. In particular, it changed the allowance so that it represented a co-payment of 60% of fees and course costs.
So from the beginning of this year this Government:
 Abolished the co-payment so that now the TIA covers up to 100% of fees and course costs;
 Introduced an annual inflation adjustment to the TIA from 1 April 2000; and
 Restored the TIA to beneficiaries who have completed a degree course within the previous five years, if they are undertaking a short-term employment related training course.
As a result of these changes, in total, we are investing $32 million over four years into extending educational opportunities to beneficiaries.
I want today to announce another equity initiative, slightly smaller than the investment in beneficiaries, but still very significant.
This year's Budget contained contingency funding for measures to address Maori and Pacific peoples’ disadvantage. We have been criticised for this, and various statistics have been bandied around to support the criticism
But the blunt fact remains: by any indicator Maori and Pacific peoples receive disproportionately less of the benefits of living in New Zealand. In terms of equity, in terms of fairness, in terms of a win/win social situation, in terms of the need to have a modern up-to-date economy, the policy is justified. Indeed, it is necessary.
That is why I am very pleased to be able to announce today a new initiative to be introduced next year to assist in closing educational gaps.
The Government recognises that by far the majority of Maori and Pacific students (indeed 85% in 2000) are enrolled at public tertiary education institutions. Many of these institutions have been investing in programmes and services to support Maori and Pacific peoples for years, and the increasing numbers of students graduating over the past decade is testimony to their efforts.
Across the institutional sector, however, this level of responsiveness is not universal. The Government wants to support all institutions in expanding the level of services and support you provide to Maori and Pacific students, and ensuring the students’ education outcomes continue to improve.
Beginning in 2001, the Government will introduce a package to improve institutional responsiveness, which will include:
 Funding to provide support and services that will increase the participation and achievement of Maori and Pacific students. The funding will be distributed by way of a Special Supplementary Grant for each Maori and Pacific student enrolled at your institution. Institutions will be required to report annually on how you are using the additional funding your institution has gained.
 Information on ‘best practice’ examples of support for Maori and Pacific students from across the tertiary sector. This is designed to help you develop initiatives to introduce in your institution.
 Regulatory and reporting requirements, to be introduced in 2001 for the 2002 academic year, on Mäori and Pacific education outcomes.
The Government has committed over $18 million over the next four years to this initiative, which is a significant investment in the tertiary sector.
This is an exciting new development. Our tertiary education funding system has rarely recognised the additional costs associated with providing high quality education to disadvantaged groups. Nor has it sought to reward those institutions who have consistently supported learners from these groups to succeed. This package is designed to do both.
I realise that time is short before the next academic year begins, and you have been planning for 2001 for some time. I encourage each institution to sit down with the iwi and communities you are in partnership with, your Maori and Pacific staff, and students, and prioritise the initiatives you would like to introduce next year with the additional funding. My officials from the Ministry of Education will be in contact with you over the next few weeks to provide more details on the funding grants.
This package is the next step in the Government’s strategy to improve Mäori and Pacific tertiary education outcomes. We will continue work on developing this strategy, and in doing so would like to engage with Mäori and Pacific communities and tertiary sector representatives over the next year. We are committed to equity in participation and achievement in tertiary education, and I am pleased to be able to announce this exciting new initiative to you all today.
Another step in achieving equity of educational opportunity is to ensure more effective use of adult education and community learning, especially in the field of literacy. Improving literacy is a key component of improving equity. Low literacy is associated with greater likelihood of being unemployed, of earning less money when in employment, with difficulty in creating good learning environments for children, and with crime, poverty and ill health.
Yet the International Adult Literacy Survey in 1996 revealed that poor literacy is widespread in New Zealand, and in particular amongst Maori and Pacific peoples.
$8 million has been committed over the next four years for adult education and community learning. The majority of this new money will be used to support adult literacy. The Government will also be announcing an adult literacy strategy at the end of November establishing a long term action plan to raise literacy levels.
The Government has also taken new initiatives in industry training. Industry training often extends learning opportunities to those who might otherwise have missed out. It is also an essential component of the knowledge society. By acquiring new vocational education and training and developing their capabilities throughout their lives, individuals benefit themselves as employees and their employers.
One area of industry training in particular gave us concern. One-quarter of all 16 and 17- year-olds and one-third of that age Maori were not in education or employment. Yet only about 10% of trainees were aged under twenty. Over 50% were aged 25 and older. Indeed nearly 20% were over 40.
Clearly under the existing system employers had gone for older, more experienced people. While acknowledging the concern, Industry Training Organisations found it difficult persuading employers to hire younger people.
This is the background to the government's Modern Apprenticeship programme - a move targeting the youth labour market. I am particularly proud of this policy, for it will increase the opportunities for young people to undertake training that will enable them to participate in and contribute to the knowledge society. It also will enable the continued expansion of training into new high technology industries.
I have spoken at length today about equal educational opportunities. I recognise of course that equal staff opportunities are also a prime concern for your group. The Government is also concerned about this but implementation in this area is more a responsibility of your institutions themselves. Nonetheless, I am confident that measures like the grants to improve responsiveness to Maori and Pacific students will also have positive spin-offs for staff equal opportunities.
I have outlined for you a concerted programme to bring about greater equity of educational opportunities. This includes:
 Fee Stabilisation;
 A Fairer Loan Scheme;
 The stronger Training Incentive Allowance;
 Encouraging responsiveness to Maori and Pacific students;
 Fostering Adult Literacy; and
 Modern Apprenticeships.
Further measures will be implemented as we proceed. This is a government of constant improvement.
For instance, I have already indicated a desire to refocus the postgraduate and enterprise scholarships introduced by the previous Government. The current system rewards students who were likely to have received scholarships anyway. I would like to see more emphasis to access considerations and to New Zealand’s skill needs.
The steps I have outlined today put us back on track on the Beeby vision - a fair education opportunity for all. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

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