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Starving the universities

Written By: - Date published: 8:02 am, October 6th, 2014 - 52 comments
Categories: education, national, tertiary education - Tags: , ,

We desperately need governments that think long term. We don’t get them. National are the worst, the stupidity of their policy, economically, environmentally and socially, makes me despair. How stupid do you have to be, for example, to run down the university sector? Professor Harlene Hayne, acting chair of Universities New Zealand, highlighted the issue last week:

Grim warning as New Zealand universities slip in global rankings

Auckland University is listed 175th, down from 164 last year. Otago ranked 251-275 (down from 226-250) and Waikato fell to 301-350 from 351-400. Victoria (276-300) and Canterbury (301-350) held their rankings.

But Universities New Zealand (UNZ) says the downward trend is likely to continue unless the government offers more support. Acting chair Harlene Hayne says the rankings have grown increasingly important over the last decade and international students use them when choosing where to go.

“The unfortunate reality is that New Zealand universities have realised all the easy gains and the long term trend is downward,” Professor Hayne says, adding government funding for students had been declining in real terms over the past two decades and universities had been forced to cut staff.

She says it isn’t just an academic issue with universities contributing over $900 million annually to New Zealand’s economy.

Oh look – the same thing happened last year:

Shortfall in tertiary funding blamed

New Zealand universities’ slide down world rankings has tertiary education leaders uneasy – saying Government investment in the sector is falling short of what’s needed for them to keep up.

Yes, it’s the funding:

Since 2009, government funding for tertiary education, including student support has fallen from $4.6 billion to $4.2 billion. If it had adjusted for inflation that 2009 figure of $4.6 billion would now be $5 billion. Treasury forecasts that tertiary education spending will remain nearly flat until at least 2018 while inflation will rise another 11 percent by the end of 2018.

Over a similar period (2009 to 2012), the number of actual student places (not funded student places) grew by over 20,000 people. The tertiary education system is funding more people for less money while costs rise.

and:

Tertiary education funding has fallen dramatically in the last five years according to an independent report by BERL economist Ganesh Nana.

The report, commissioned by the Green Party, backs up analysis by TEU over recent years showing that government funding for tertiary education has fallen in real terms by half a billion dollars, and will continue to fall according to Treasury projects by a further half a  billion over the next five years.

The report shows the government is spending nearly $4000 per student less in real terms than it did in 2009. “This year, measured in 2014 dollars, the government is spending only 80 cents on each student for every dollar it spent in 2009,” said TEU president Lesley Francey.

National fudge the figures to try and claim that funding has increased. But the reports quoted above tell the truth. In my own Department and Division funding cuts caused the loss of many positions (mostly teaching related) last year. Cuts in the quality of education inevitably follow.

We have three more years of “brighter future” to look forward to:

BUDGET FIGURES REVEAL TERTIARY SQUEEZE COULD BE FOR THE LONG HAUL

CTU economist Bill Rosenberg has unearthed figures in the Government’s budget that show falling government expenditure as a proportion of GDP over the next four years, a sign that tough times are not over for the tertiary education sector.

Published budget plans aim for the state to shrink from 33 percent of GDP in the year to June 2013, down to 29.9 percent in the year to June 2018. Finance Minister Bill English has told his party faithful he would like to see it down to 25 or 26 percent.

Rebuilding the tertiary sector will be just one of the many challenges facing the next sane government.


I am a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Otago. I do not speak for Otago in any official (or indeed unofficial) capacity. My posts on The Standard are my own opinion only.

52 comments on “Starving the universities”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    It seems that National just don’t like having an educated populace. They have cut ECE, are screwing over primary for profit and now cutting tertiary. The result will be an uneducated populace suitable for only doing what the rich tell them. We will be back to being a feudal society with all the lack of progress that implies.

    The rich will be richer though.

    • Chooky 1.1

      John Key’s Nactional wants a class based education system…it is down grading state high quality education and opening the door to privatisation and fee paying students

      New Zealands’ best and brightest students are now discouraged from post grad studies in NZ because the government wont fund them ( their parents have to, if they can afford it)

      …university and other tertiary education is becoming the province of the wealthy and mediocre ….small wonder the ratings are going down

    • David H 1.2

      But the big risk there is the populace vote with the ‘pitchforks and bonfires’

      And the backlash is going to be spectacular. the economy is starting to go backwards now. The dollar is dropping near as fast as the Milk Solid payout. Which means that petrol and everything else what we import will start to climb.$ 1.40 a litre any one? So the Uni’s could only be the tip of the iceberg as this bunch of Megalomaniacs try to keep the cash flowing.

      • Chooky 1.2.1

        the John Key government does not like academics who can think critically and who speak out challenging Nact policy ( eg attacks on university nutritionists and environmentalists)

        ….another reason for the downgrading of NZ universities ? ( to stifle critical thinking and research and dissent)

      • left for dead 1.2.2

        Hello David H,more like $2.50 per litre.

  2. Jono 2

    I am an NZ based NZ PhD student studying an NZ topic through a highly ranked Aussie university, fully funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award. thanks CER! One of the first crimes against tertiary education this government committed upon taking office was kill the equivalent Bright Futures PhD scholarships programme. My mate, another NZer has just handed in his PhD but has already been employed on an Australian Research Council Post-Doc making $90kAU a year plus 17% super. He has just bought a new apartment in Canberra and received $12500 cash back from the Australian Government.

    There are at least half a dozen other kiwi postgrad students and research fellows in the small, niche, non-STEM department. Arguably the best and brightest in their field, all funded by the Aussie government, all unlikely to return to nz in the medium term.

    Out country is a joke.

  3. One Anonymous Bloke 3

    Most of the challenges to Everything Wingnuts Hold Dear™, aka government policy come from evidence-based analyses.

    The war on facts has now reached the level of being constant and overt and involves industry players as well as government departments and ministers.

    Still, if the plan is to fuck with smart people I expect Rawshark was just the entrée.

  4. higherstandard 4

    For a young country of 4.5 million we have too many universities in NZ with too many students offering too many dubious degrees.

    Frankly it’s quite impressive we have a two universities in the worldwide top 250ish with the way these league tables are generated.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1

      That’s a lovely lower standard you’re setting there. I note you are asserting facts. Are we meant to take your word for them?

      What part of falling down the ranks don’t you understand? Are they suddenly generating the league tables differently? Or is your contribution little more than a manifestation of denial and bias?

    • Chooky 4.2

      we used to have just four high quality universities …now all sorts of institutions can offer degrees….degrees have been down graded and the traditional universities with them

    • greywarbler 4.3

      @ higherstandard 8.59
      Are you trying to encourage the decline in universities here, by creating negative impressions on overseas people who at present are funding what we have? White anting Nz again, RWNJ.

      For dubious degrees, look to the ones that can be bought in the USA after a derisory period of study if at all. The recent problem with Warriors doing a month long diploma in one day is being looked into. Don’t use an exception to generalise about the whole system which still has high standing, and rightly.

      What is worrying is a perceived trend to downgrade the tertiary system of universities of higher learning which is under cost pressure and therefore quality pressure, to something that is more like an advanced polytechnic.

    • infused 4.4

      Yep. They pump them out, then they can’t find a job. Look at all the ‘Phd’ students now (I use that term lightly).

      • Chooky 4.4.1

        yes they go to Australia or further afield because Nactional has cut Research and Development and jobs in the universitiesj

        • Tom Jackson 4.4.1.1

          Many go because they can get a better PhD. What kind of idiot would turn down ANU for Auckland?

      • Tom Jackson 4.4.2

        Why would you do a PhD in NZ anyway? If you’re any good at what you do you’ll get a place at a more highly ranked university outside of NZ. In my subject having a NZ PhD is a significant mark against you unless you have a good reason for having done one here.

    • Tom Jackson 4.5

      Our universities are falling for a number of reasons. One is that they have increased vocational subjects at the expense of traditional academic subjects. Highly ranked world universities don’t do this (not that you’ve ever attended one). Another reason is that they made some polytechnics universities, which increased the trend towards vocational subjects. If New Zealand wants highly ranked universities, then it should stop trying to turn its universities into centres for specialised vocational training. Giving out degrees in golf course management just devalues degrees.

      One thing that isn’t noted here is that our fall is partly caused by the rise of Asian universities. Now that they have more money than they used to, top Asian universities are deliberately aiming to increase their world ranking by paying better salaries and hiring faculty from non-Asian countries. Even if we were paying more into tertiary ed, we would still be falling behind because the Asians just have much more money than we do.

      Yet another reason is that New Zealand is a pretty dumb country. Our national character has an allergy to critical thought and a love of the simple and empirical. The Anglosphere trends this way, but NZ is an outlier even among them. The level of public ignorance of even basic facts in NZ is incredible. One needs only to visit a conservative NZ blog to see a complete lack of any critical thought.

      • Chooky 4.5.1

        @ Tom Jackson…”Yet another reason is that New Zealand is a pretty dumb country. Our national character has an allergy to critical thought and a love of the simple and empirical…..a complete lack of any critical thought.”

        …..yet Canterbury University once had Karl Popper on its staff

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper

        “Yet it would be at the University of Canterbury that Popper enjoyed the intellectual alchemy that made it possible for him to produce his life’s seminal political work, The Open Society and Its Enemies”…and his theories of critical thinking and falsifiability in science

        Nobel prize winning Ernest Rutherford and a number of other eminent international scientists have also come out of New Zealand universities

        http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/rutherford/path.shtml

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Zealand_scientists

        • Tom Jackson 4.5.1.1

          Popper was running away from Hitler, and wasn’t a New Zealander.

          Every society has produced some scholars and researchers of note. That doesn’t make it a society that appreciates intellectual matters.

          • Chooky 4.5.1.1.1

            …well depends on where you come from and who you mix with I guess….but I always thought NZers had a very high appreciation of education ( unlike the British working class)…i knew NZ working class kids who ended up with PhDs…and their families very much valued education…same with farming families

      • Draco T Bastard 4.5.2

        Our national character has an allergy to critical thought and a love of the simple and empirical.

        Simple, yes, empirical, no. If we had a love of the empirical then we would never be voting National never mind having them for an actual government.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.6

      For a young country of 4.5 million we have too many universities in NZ with too many students offering too many dubious degrees.

      Nope. We’re really not that young (Although I have NFI WTF that’s got to do with anything) and every major city should have at least one university. With the continuing decline in jobs it’s going to be the universities that are where the majority of people will end up either as teachers/researchers and/or students and that will be a good thing as we will be able to ask questions like WTF are we still using this outdated and failed model of economics?.

      • Chooky 4.6.1

        i think they have quite a few universities in Germany and France….and youth are expected to go …unless they head towards the trades or artisan route

    • Murray Olsen 4.7

      Quite a few research groups in Australia are world leaders because of the Kiwis working in them. Our own country loves importing useless bloody ticket punchers and executives, while giving our researchers no opportunities at home. Auckland University should be in the top 100, but instead it’s been turned into a business handing out diplomas for money and its ranking has collapsed.

      You are easily impressed, lower standard.

  5. greywarbler 5

    That’s education in NZ. A nice to have not a base for the building blocks of a strong, capable country.

    We don’t need intellectual stimulation and wider understanding in this country – we have cows and rugby and lots of shops for spending, and more and more imports and tourists to bring in diseases and put destructive pressure on special wild areas, and an excellent credit rating so we can borrow to maintain this land of wealth and opportunity – that is all you need in NZ.

    This morning on Radionz there is a story about students trying to learn in cold, damp, mouldy mostly pre-fab classrooms that need repair or replacement. But they may have slipped off the list as funds have to go to Christchurch rebuilds. And I think money gets poured into pseudo private consultants acting as Commissioners and other schemes for loading costs on schools to provide extra employment opportunities in the wider community.

    I think universities are being encouraged to behave like corporates, and take on projects outside it’s core educational mission. They are dependent on overseas students fees, but if their standing drops away, then that will kill off the golden goose. (Here is a relevant Latin phrase to show the value of higher education: Dolus Eventualis Awareness of the likely outcome of an action.) QED etc.

    With the rightwing PPP fascination, (do fascist and fascination have the same root?), schools will be asked to tender out teaching jobs to the community, which would be encouraged to compete with and likely bypass trained, experienced teachers mainly on cost.

    Meanwhile the demands on pre-school child care to upgrade and meet more expensive requirements, becoming early education centres increases the costs of those for the poor and the working woman pays out a large chunk from her wages to meet middle class bureaucratic aspirations.
    edited

    • Murray Olsen 5.1

      +1
      “They are dependent on overseas students fees, but if their standing drops away, then that will kill off the golden goose.”

      I was saying that at Auckland Uni in the 90s, but no one important was listening.

      Fascist comes from the fasces, a bundle of rods carried by someone important (maybe senators) in Ancient Rome.

      Fascination comes from the latin facinus, the divine penis. I can see a link.

  6. Tautoko Viper 6

    The funding short fall in funding for universities, coupled with the restructuring and trimming of the University Councils, is a deliberate ploy to restrict research to that directly related to that which can attract corporate funding. Vested interests will determine topics of research and this sometimes leads to poor science. The worst case scenario is where the researcher is pressured to come up with a result close to that
    predetermined by the funder and the researcher designs the parameters of the experiment to achieve this result.
    Another adverse effect of diminishing funding is the gagging of scientists where university academics are pressured not to speak out on issues of importance to society. A government or corporate with dubious ethics could use a threat to withdraw funding. The smaller, more “business” style of University Council lacks the input of democratically elected staff and student members who could advocate against muzzling staff.
    This might suit the Government but is detrimental to the citizens.
    Our Universities will be unable to give bright students the academic freedom to research topics that come from lateral thinking well outside the range of funding corporates or government flat-earthers.

    This is exactly how poor science
    • Increasing the proportion of ministerial appointees transfers too much control over the universities to the Government and its vested interests.
    • Universities need to have autonomy and the academic freedom to be able to carry out research without being muzzled or unable to collaborate, or being required to tailor their research projects and findings to flatter those providing the funds. A University Council “stacked” with Ministerial appointees, with no dissenting voices of student or lecturer stakeholders, could make decisions that might appear to be fiscally prudent but which limit the scope for innovation and research.

  7. Heather 7

    What’s happened to Massey University? have they dropped off the scale Steve Mahary won’t be too happy about no mention! maybe he will return to the Labour Party

    • greywarbler 7.1

      @ Heather 7
      Do you think you know why Massey University has dropped off the scale? Your comment sounds like a jibe against Steve Maharey and Labour Party. What about some intelligent comment from you? Did you go to Massey or any university? I thought that how to analyse and discuss, contrast and compare, was what was learned in 101. Sorry if you never got your chance to extend yourself, or failed when you did.

      • Chooky 7.1.1

        @greywarbler…it is a legitimate question and an important one and no way reflects on whether Heather has been to university or not…in fact I rather think the opposite

        …in fact it requires an answer….why has Massey University appeared to have dropped off the scale?

        …lack of research funding?…lack of time for lecturers to produce published academic papers ?….overworked teaching staff?…attrition of university staff numbers?…lack of time and funding for supervision of PhD students?….failure to provide adequate remuneration to attract top overseas academics and retain existing academics?…lack of financial support for New Zealand students wishing to pursue post graduate degrees?

        • greywarbler 7.1.1.1

          @ chooky
          That was what I was trying to find out myself? It would be interesting if Heather could find time to put an answer into all your questions. How about it Heather. Are you in the know about such things?

    • Tom Jackson 7.2

      Massey and Lincoln are the sheep shagger unis, are they not? 😉

      • greywarbler 7.2.1

        @ Tom Jackson 11.59
        Sorry to shake your picture of the rural idyll but these days sheep are out, the favourites are now lovely Jersey cows with long dark eyelashes. Or striking black and white Friesians.

      • Chooky 7.2.2

        you mean vet schools and agricultural/ hort/vit/ marketing universities servicing the rural sector? ….rather important actually for R@D and support for NZ’s rural based economy

  8. Sanctuary 8

    The Tories never change. This is just a replay of the 1990s, when Birch and Shipley left us a legacy of a run-down civil service, peeling paint and a systematic funding crisis.

    All in the name of a balanced budget and tax cuts for the rich.

  9. greywarbler 9

    This is quite long! But I was thinking of some of the ways that we need to have better thinking, more use of our highly educated graduates and experienced people. Who are likely to have more education and experience than pollies who may not want to be shown up by the greater ability of these professionals.

    The cataclysm of World Wars forced an outflux of fine people with fine minds to escape far from Europe to distant countries, and that is how we received an influx, raising our IQ considerably., amongst them Karl Popper.

    Karl Popper (from wikipedia)… He needed to publish [a book on his work] to get some academic position in a country that was safe for people of Jewish descent…..
    In 1935 and 1936, he took unpaid leave to go to England for a study visit….
    In 1937, Popper finally managed to get a position that allowed him to emigrate to New Zealand, where he became lecturer in philosophy at Canterbury University College of the University of New Zealand in Christchurch.

    Unfortunately the attempt at cross-fertilisation of fine minds with our bovine anti-intellectual, incurious ones didn’t take. We have great scientists from NZ universities who are lucky if they get a chance to fully utilise their knowledge for our benefit. They often have to go down on their knees to get funding, and this may be reduced or cut before the completion and realisation of the research project. Hence the present debacle.

    I am now thinking of people with knowledge and expertise – how effectively has the government made use of them? People of vision and experience like Dr Bill Sutch who was harrassed and discounted. He was charged with a crime I think, because he was attempting to gain intelligence on communist politics and overseas trade. Bruce Jesson fought against the coarse, simplistic, rampant asset stripping by greedy gits who regarded government as a free meal for themselves.

    There is a fascinating story of our Dairy Board offshoot and how it built up a very successful, unique, trading relationship with Russia when their continuing custom was needed. This was when Labour was in power here and Geoffrey Palmer visited Russia. The book- Till the Cows Came Home by Wellington journalist Clive Lind tells the story of how the New Zealand dairy industry changed in the 40 years to the formation of Fonterra in 2001.
    This was happening in the late 1980s.
    Sovenz’s trading office in Moscow would also act as the agent for the New Zealand Trade Development Board. Among its duties would be organising Soviet trade delegations to New Zealand, an activity which, to the mirth of John Parker, would attract the attention of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. A promising business began with Gaffikin as Sovenz’s chief executive and John Hebron running Lada New Zealand, later replaced by Larry Coombes.
    Parker was to liken Gaffikin to a superferret when it came to finding deals to be done and trades to be made. Many of the arrangements were not particularly profitable, but each one helped create political goodwill. Timing was excellent. Mike Moore had led a group of New Zealand business leaders, including Jim Graham, to Russia in 1986. A subsequent parliamentary delegation had been followed by a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer.

    http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/book-extract-till-cows-came-home-part-2-hold-holiday-review-dc-150321

    In 2010 Stuart Prior said that we ‘Ignore Russia at our peril, former diplomat warns’. http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/3568223/Ignore-Russia-at-our-peril-former-diplomat-warns. So this intelligent, experienced man would have seen what happen? How was his advice utilised to advance NZ?

    Vernon Small wrote this 13/11/2010.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/4342760/New-Zealand-Russia-to-start-free-trade-talks
    New Zealand and Russia have agreed to kick start talks on a free trade agreement that will be a first for the former Soviet republic.
    The deal was announced in Japan today at bilateral talks between Prime Minister John Key and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
    Trade Minister Tim Groser said the move was another step in New Zealand’s “aggressive trade strategy”.

    So what has happened in our trade relations with Russia lately? We can’t get locked in to TPPA and limit our avenues of trade to only western right wing tendencies. We have to keep trying to raise new lines of thinking, using the real intelligence that we have here that is just not being usefully ‘drilled or mined’. That is where our wealth will come from, not destroying the earth, lacing it with cyanide or whatever to get the gold out, or spoiling the sea bed where we have a resource to nurture yet we are ruining with intensive harvesting. Similar to our intensive dairying.
    edited

  10. Chooky 10

    @ greywarbler ..actually I think New Zealanders, both Maori and early Pakeha settlers, have always been able critical thinkers …hence the setting up of a high quality , free, secular state education system. New Zealand also produced top scientists before the wars….many early British settlers were very well educated…or at least valued education…they did not want a class education system but an egalitarian one…NZ women were the amongst the first in the world to be university educated.

    http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/theuni/backgrnd/history.shtml

    …as regards trade with Russia …i am all for it

  11. greywarbler 11

    @ chooky 1.43
    That was then – pre 1984. Orwellian what!

  12. BLiP 12

    . . . How stupid do you have to be, for example, to run down the university sector? . . .

    One does not have to be stupid at all. Rather, all that’s required is that the psyche become captured by an ideology which distances cognitive functioning from reality. The ideology driving the National Ltd™ Cult of John Key is just such a cognitive trap. As a result, we see all manner of apparently disparate actions which, both in isolation and collectively, are, by any objective measure, irrational yet are wholly in alignment with the fundamentals of the ideology.

    The National Ltd™ Cult of John Key is a weed-like outgrowth bedded in the detritus of “Objectism” but sharing the same deity, known as “The Invisible Hand”. The deity, it is believed, requires freedom from all concepts of humanity contained in the idea of “government”. Thus unenumbered, “The Invisible Hand” will, according to the ideology, work unseen magic and deliver a new state of being where individuals are supreme and operate in a world of limitless freedom. The ideology has its own language, milieu control mechansims, and an array of concepts which require dedicated study to grasp. Adherents are typically individuals who have managed to accumulate wealth, or aspire within their souls to do so, and genuinely believe such motivation is the core function of their existence. They endure excruciating cognitive dissonance in the process of indoctrination as they distance themselves from what they believe to be the short-term but essential agonies visited upon those to whom the ideology is applied at the macro level. The more agonies that become apparent the more the adherents see their ideology as working and the more dedicated they become. The really dangerous aspect is that adherents also genuinely believe that they have the answer and their actions are of benefit to society as a whole. They are good people doing evil without realising it.

    What’s actually happening is that as the agonies mount, the more removed from reality the adherents must become in order to continue to function. A prime example of this is the life of Alan Greenspan, a high priest in the earlier ideology of “Objectivism”. No one can accurately call Greenspan stupid but his ideology certainly was. At one stage, even he managed to glimpse that the apparently unlimited growth of the US economy was not being matched by a parallel growth in productivity. Greenspan, at least, was brave enough to publicly draw attention to this fundamental flaw. At that stage, the “Objectivism” milieu-control mechanisms kicked in and, after being thoroughly pilloried by his fellow cultists, including Bill Clinton, he eventually said publicly that his doubt was wrong. He remains today a classic example of how the minds of the brightest and most able can be divorced from reality and the dangers inherent to a person’s public standing should they dare to call out that the Emperor has no clothes.

    So, stupid? No, not really. Just mind-fucked by ideology and craven. As well as the example pointed to here in education, the same thing is happening in all areas of government which seek to enhance the human state. Its happening in health, justice, the environment, housing, civil liberties, the “fourth estate”, and, indeed, in parliament itself. Welcome to John Key’s brighter future.

    • Chooky 12.1

      sounds like fascism

      • BLiP 12.1.1

        The long term result is exactly the same as facism, but the methods are different. Facism requires a collective approach and appealing to such things as integral nationalism whereas the National Ltd™ Cult of John Key requires the integral individuation and appeals to things like personal greed. While the catch-cry of facism might be “New Zealand, über alles”, the catch cry of the National Ltd™ Cult of John Key might be “above all else, self”.

  13. Camryn 13

    Surely this is more about the fact that countries that previously had no decent universities now do (China, for example)? It was easier to rank more highly when we were one of only a small group of countries playing the game.

    • BLiP 13.1

      What? That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, are the All Blacks less excellent because there are more decent rugby teams in the world? No. The All Blacks remain excellent because they have (more than) sufficient resources to maintain that excellence.

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