Although the Government has invested heavily in some aspects of NZ’s future in the recent Budget 2017, it is yet to place emphasis on improving the country’s universities so that future generations – and NZ society – will reap the rewards.
Chair of Universities NZ, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, says through their teaching and research, universities create great benefits for all Kiwis.
There were some wins in this year’s Budget, as it brought a number of increases to research funding, including an additional $7.5m of funding for the Performance Based Research Fund, set to increase again to $15m from 2018/19.
There will also be an increase in money for the Endeavour fund – which provides support to high quality research carried out by researchers from across the wider sector - of $81.9m over the next four years.
The fund addresses pressing issues facing the country, and helps stimulate innovation and growth within the business and export sectors.
However, the Government has failed to substantially increase its investment in teaching and learning - the activities that prepare the citizens and leaders of tomorrow, and the 1 percent and across-the-board tuition subsidy increase announced on Budget Day is below the expected Consumer Price Index of 2.2 percent, McCutcheon says.
“So university funding isn’t even keeping up with cost increases.”
Executive director of Universities NZ, Chris Whelan, says this puts pressure on a university system already struggling to maintain teaching quality.
“The key issue is that New Zealand’s universities continue to be underfunded for the tuition they provide.".
“Our universities now receive just 95 percent of the OECD average per student and this puts our funding at the same level as countries like Slovenia, Spain, and Estonia,” Whelan says.
Despite this challenge, NZ’s universities are all ranked in the top 500 of world universities and deliver teaching and research that matches that of countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
These countries receive 30-90 percent more funding per student, Whelan adds.
“Earlier this month, the respected Universitas 21 comparison of 50 university systems singled out the Government when attributing the fall in New Zealand’s resourcing rankings to ‘the reduction in government funding as a share of GDP’.
“The Government again failed to seize the opportunity to put this right and to enable us to create the truly great institutions that competitor countries have and New Zealand needs.”
As a consequence of continued underfunding, Whelan says NZ will see further slippage in university rankings despite the hard work and commitment of university staff.
Universities will struggle to provide young Kiwis access to a world-class university education, and they will struggle to develop innovative research that benefits all New Zealanders.
It will be more difficult to attract international students, who currently bring $1 billion to the economy each year, to NZ.
“Government should be investing in the development of skills and knowledge to build an innovative, internationally-competitive, knowledge-based economy,” Whelan says.
“This budget fails New Zealand and New Zealanders by contributing to further erosion of a system that is already at breaking point.”