Tertiary Education

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QPEC calls for free tertiary education

QPEC logo no borderRecent public attention about tertiary fees should prompt us to reintroduce free tertiary education.

Labour has announced a fees-free policy.   But from a contrary viewpoint, The NZ Initiative has recently argued for means-testing student loans plus restoring interest on tuition aid.

QPEC believes that tertiary education should be free, continuing on from public primary and secondary education.   This would be a return to earlier practice in NZ, and current practice elsewhere in the world, such as in Germany, Slovenia and Cuba.

  • Free tertiary education is inclusive – it widens access to tertiary institutions to a broader cross-section of the population.  
  • If education is a social good, improving access to better jobs, secure homes and healthier lives,  free education is an investment in the future of the country.   It builds an informed and critical populace, consistent with the “broader social and economic outcomes” of the Government’s Investment Approach.   
  • It means that many more NZ graduates would stay in the country and/or return from working overseas, because they wouldn’t be crippled with a huge debt as they re-enter their home country.   

QPEC believes that free higher education contributes to the public good through enhancing the country’s wellbeing, equity and social justice.   

“We believe The NZ Initiative paper is fundamentally misguided,” says Dr David Cooke, tertiary spokesperson for QPEC.   “It’s just squirming around within a market model that shouldn’t apply to tertiary education.   Education is not a business.   Treating it as such over 25 years has harmed the system and its graduates”.  

Many other countries have maintained free higher education.   “We should do likewise,” says Dr Cooke.   

“A well-funded free system of tertiary education is a basic plank of democracy in modern societies”.


Forum on the Productivity Commission and Tertiary Education


The Clocktower Building is where they have filmed the latest series of Mastermind and also where QPEC held its 2016 forum and AGM on Saturday 30 April.  The crowd was fairly small but we had a great range of speakers.

The focus was the Productivity Commission’s review of the tertiary education system.

David Cooke, our tertiary spokesperson, started off by discussing the ‘buzz words’ adopted by the Productivity Commission in it 78 questions, and what these were likely to mean in terms of policies as tertiary education becomes reduced to a cost-cutting economic system.  David suggested we needed to respond positively by offering alternative visions to that of the Productivity Commission.  One point that a couple of speakers raised was the view of the system as characterised by inertia.  Anyone who knows tertiary education, it was pointed out, is very clear that it is far from ‘inert’, whatever that means.

In response, Jane Kelsey said that there were some real issues with the review.  The system of tertiary education is governed by the Education Act (1989) and its amendments, and yet the Act is never even mentioned in the Productivity Commission’s  background papers.  She said the principles of the Education Act, especially the critic/conscience clause, are being undermined by the review.

Ian Shirley gave a wonderful talk about the history of the struggle against the New Right, and I will not be able to do it justice here. He went right back to the 80s and reminded us that Treasury frame education as a private good, not a public good, right back then.  Treasury’s work at that time constituted what Ian called the “expansion of markets into spheres of life where they do not belong:.  We have been living the legacy of that ever since.

He called on us to reframe the whole debate – to reframe the debate from econospeak to societyspeak, and to have our own vision of what tertiary education should look like – beyond critique to reconstruction.

Sandra Grey carried on a number of these themes, especially the need to agree on what tertiary education is for.  She took us through the actions the TEU is carrying out to engage with the Productivity Commission, including taking them into universities and polytechnics to see what happens inside.  The alternative view to the ‘inertia’ claim is a sector that is diverse, innovative and creative, dedicated to what they do, focusing on resolving the issues of our times and to lifelong learning.

She outlined an alternative model for tertiary education based on te Tiriti, responsible autonomy (death to steering at a distance!), diversity of provision, the people, and well-supported workforce and student body.

Finally, Linsey from the NZUSA outlined student concerns for a tertiary system oriented to student need.

Later, at the AGM, the teacher unions, the TEU and QPEC made a joint pledge to meet later in the year to nut out a shared vision of, of course, a ‘Quality Public Education’ system.  We are very excited about this, and think it will be very productive.

Liz Gordon

Chair, Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC)





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