- Date published:
10:00 am, January 18th, 2016 - 114 comments
Categories: economy, education, employment, tertiary education - Tags: education, student debt, student numbers, tertiary education
Depressing reading on falling enrollments in tertiary education in this piece in the Dom Post yesterday:
Skill shortages tipped as student numbers plummet
Data released to the Sunday Star-Times shows the number of people studying at tertiary level students has fallen 20 per cent over the past 10 years. There were 453,000 students enrolled in tertiary institutes in 2005. By 2014, that had fallen to 363,000.
Certificate courses at polytech level were particularly hard hit, down 30 per cent since 2008, despite a Government push to get students into trades training with through its fees-free Youth Guarantee and Maori and Pasifika Trades Training schemes.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins says students have been driven out by higher fees and tighter restrictions on student loans.
Later the article offers an alternative explanation for the fall:
Rick Ede, chief executive at Unitec, says the drop in student numbers is largely driven by an improving economy. Those who might have been choosing between studying and working are now finding it easier to get a job.
Ede is wrong. The economy has (almost) always grown – without gutting student numbers. Our current growth is slower than our 20 year average, and outside of the (non-productive) Auckland property bubble and the Christchurch rebuild (which employed many foreign workers) recent growth has been pretty anemic. Furthermore “the 146,000 unemployed now  compares to 77,000 at the end of 2007 and 105,000 at the end of 2008, when John Key became Prime Minister”.
It seems much more likely that Hipkins is right – higher fees and tighter restrictions on student loans leading to falling student numbers looks like pretty simple cause and effect.
Steven Joyce also offers an opinion:
But Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says much of the decline is driven by a push to focus on higher-level qualifications. “We’ve deliberately encouraged a decline in low-value, low-return part-time courses at Levels 1-3 since they peaked under Labour in 2005,” he says. “If Labour wants to go back to the future and churn people repeatedly through low-level qualifications that are of no use to those enrolled then good luck to them.”
Joyce is wrong:
In the construction industry, the shortage of staff is not just among the most highly-skilled tradespeople but includes people driving trucks and in lower-skill roles. “There is an acute shortage of skills at all levels across many industries.”
IT, engineering, teacher education, agriculture and management qualifications recorded big drops. The number of students studying information technology dropped by more than 20 per cent overall while students studying information systems fell by 35 per cent between 2008 and 2014,from 20,580 to 13,200.
Civil engineering, which is on the New Zealand skill-shortage list, lost nearly a quarter of its students. The number studying automotive engineering dropped 40 per cent. Roger McRae, managing director of engineering firm McConnell Dowell, says the decline in numbers is a recognised problem.
Nine per cent more people are now doing bachelors degrees than in 2008, 13 per cent more are doing honours degrees, and 19 per cent more doing masters degrees. But compared to 2011, there has been a drop in bachelor, graduate diploma, and doctorate-level enrolments.
Those are not “low-level” qualifications in any sense at all – Joyce is not only wrong but can only be deliberately blowing smoke. Final word to Hipkins:
“A whole generation of New Zealanders received their tertiary education more or less free and now they are reaching retirement age and are reliant on the next generation to pay tax to support that retirement. Now is a good time to invest in the education of the next generation.”