A series of five tongue-in-cheek pamphlets from the Association of University Staff of New Zealand (AUS) is drawing the attention of AUS members, university students, politicians, the media and the public to the government's push for a market model in tertiary education. The pamphlets are part of an AUS campaign to target a Government White Paper due out in October. This paper, says AUS executive director Rob Crozier, will pave the way for the following:
- Universities run more as businesses than places of public education;
- Students become consumers who use their vouchers to buy education, possibly overseas;
- Public and private education providers compete for the consumer (student) dollar;
- Private providers strip out profitable areas of higher education;
- Universities have to cut corners and quality, or charge higher fees;
- Government-appointed boards of directors, rather than elected councils run universities;
- Research is governed by what the market will pay for;
- Staff salaries and conditions of employment come under more pressure;
- Academic freedom is jeopardised as universities protect their corporate identities and incomes.
Rob Crozier believes New Zealanders have become a lot more skeptical about such market reforms, given what has happened in health and other walks of life. "The attempt to turn public hospitals into competing health providers has caused huge problems in New Zealand. In education too, there's quite rightly a lot of resistance to importing that competitive market model."
One pamphlet on academic freedom struck a chord with many university staff, said Crozier. "Once you set up commercial relationships between universities and private sponsors, then you risk compromising academic inquiry. A lot of AUS members are worried about whether they can freely operate in a more commercial environment."
Key elements of the market model are already in place he warns. One, the Universal Tertiary Tuition Allowance, (UTTA), was introduced in last May's budget. The UTTA is a type of voucher that will encourage students to "shop around" among competing public and private providers, says Crozier. The government has not ruled out the bizarre notion that students could spend their vouchers overseas. "This means a New Zealand student might decide to redeem their voucher at Sydney University or UBC. I don't think many New Zealand taxpayers will like the fact that their taxes could end up being paid to overseas institutions."
Crozier says a market free-for-all of competing providers would create huge problems for staff, and for long-term planning and research. "It would also jeopardise the high international standing of this country's universities. Globally, the costs of a failed experiment in higher education are enormous."
The white paper will be a final statment of government policy. "The time to influence the decisions is before the Cabinet committee decides on the policy. AUS will be doing all it can to alert the public to the government's plans, targeting the industrial issues, impacts on international standing of the universities and degrees, academic freedom, quality and equity concerns and public tertiary education as an investment for the future."For more information on the Tertiary Review Campaign -- AUS, PO Box 11-767, Wellington. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.aus.ac.nz.